Deborah Birx, a member of the Coronavirus Tax Forces, clashed with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum over the state’s lack of a masking mandate. She said the city of Bismarck was one of the worst she had seen in terms of mask use in the state.
North Dakota is one of the few remaining states where there are no specific rules for wearing masks, with Governor Burgum instead preferring people to take personal responsibility and wear them voluntarily rather than by law.
Birx, visited Bismarck during a tour of the USA. In her speech at an event on Monday, she said that wearing masks in the city was the worst thing she had seen in the 40 states she visited.
“In the last 24 hours when we’ve been here and in your grocery stores and in your restaurants and frankly even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks we’ve seen in retail stores of any place we’ve been,” Birx told AP. She called this lack of mask wearers “deeply regrettable.
North Dakota currently has the worst corona virus infection rate in the entire United States. Cases there skyrocketed in mid-August, and health officials now record nearly 1,000 cases per day. Most new cases are diagnosed in people between 20 and 29 years of age.
As cases increase in the state, Burgum has come under increasing pressure to introduce a mask mandate. Although some city officials have now issued mandates at the local level, the officials believe that this is not enough to contain the spread of the virus. The Mayor of Bismarck, Steve Bakken, told KFYR-TV that a nationwide mandate would be more effective because people in North Dakota are very mobile, so local regulations would have limited impact.
Mark Jendrysik, a political scientist from the University of North Dakota, spoke about the state government’s refusal to introduce a mask mandate before Birx’s visit.
He told the Grand Forks Herald newspaper: “I think part of it is simply natural, bullheaded intransigence of North Dakota. We don’t like being told what to do. We are independent. I think the advice of political leaders is crucial here. If the president had come in early April and said, “Everyone wears a mask,” I don’t think there would be any question of wearing it.
“Everything is political. I think [Burgum] expects that mandates and strict regimes are not popular with the voters.
In other states where masked mandates have been introduced, the number of cases has declined. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that wearing a mask helps to reduce virus transmission.
Birx praised North Dakota’s testing efforts and said the state is doing “excellent work” in finding new cases. However, she also said that there is a whole sector of asymptomatic people who do not follow socially distancing guidelines or do not wear masks.
“There is not only … Evidence that masks work,” KFYR-TV Birx quoted as saying. “There is … Evidence that masks used as a means of public health relief work.
She said that people who refuse to wear masks should think of others when making this decision.
“Together we decide not to fight the spread of this community,” Birx said. “We make the decision to keep North Dakota children out of school by deciding that my personal freedom is more important than this child’s education, or that my personal freedom is more important… than the care of a North Dakotan child in a long-term care facility.
Correction 29.10. 9.53am ET: The title of this article has been corrected to say that Birx described the lack of mask wearers as unfortunate, not the lack of a nationwide mask mandate.