March 11th, 2020, Tom Hanks announced he and his wife tested positive for COVID, the NBA shut down, and suddenly everything changed and nothing’s been the same since; something some of us continue to learn to navigate and others refuse to accept.

Seven months in and we’re sicker than ever. In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum gave us the chance to be #NDSmart and we squandered it. Many North Dakotans recognize the importance and power of basic safety protocols, but enough shirk masks and fail to do their part that we’ve become the epicenter of the pandemic. North Dakotans have failed each other, and our leadership has failed us.

Finally, on Monday October 19th, Mayor Tim Mahoney reiterated his pledge to “do no harm” and issued a mask mandate for the city of Fargo. The mandate is supported by Commissioners Arlette Preston and John Strand, who’ve been persistent in their push for a mask mandate, and dismisses Commissioner Tony Gehrig’s and David Piepkorn’s comments and dissents, which are at best ignorant, and at worst lethal.

This mandate strikes a balance of consideration and compromise. We don’t have to shut down and stay home, but we can’t continue to act like we’re invincible. It’s unfortunate that there are some among us who aren’t as conscious of their fellow Fargoans as our “Midwest nice” characterization would suggest and continue to jeopardize the well-being of our community in the name of their individual liberties. Ultimately, it’s their failure to do the right thing that has led us to be in a position where a mask mandate is necessary.

Many Fargo businesses had mask mandates in place, but a city-wide mandate offers them the leadership and support they deserve and can rely on in these unprecedented times. Businesses shouldn’t have the burden of responsibility to protect the community rest solely on their shoulders. A mask mandate doesn’t take away one’s freedom, it protects a business’s ability to keep its doors open, and an individual’s ability to go to work and live her life. A virus that can be debilitating or deadly is the greatest threat to freedom, not a mask.

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Enforceable or not, a city-wide mask mandate conveys a message to those who continue to downplay the significance of this virus that we can’t afford to irresponsibly stand by. It’s a message of unity. Those who defy the mandate will be viewed with disappointment and disbelief by many in the community. This is an opportunity for people in Fargo to stop warring over something a-political and come together to protect their neighbors and the city’s vitality.

We’ve surpassed the first curve of this pandemic in North Dakota. If the infection rate continues its current track, we’ll get washed out by the wave we’re in now and many businesses won’t be able to overcome the immense peak that comes next. Worse yet, we’ll lose hundreds, if not thousands, more lives. The mask mandate issued by Mayor Mahoney will help us ride the wave and move toward calmer waters. Now it’s time for Burgum to stop acting as our cheerleader and find the courage to issue a state-wide mask mandate.