MINOT, N.D. — Masks.
They're all we seem to be talking about these days. From the tenor of the debate we're having, you almost get the idea that masks are a cure-all for coronavirus, and the only reason it is still ravaging our state and nation is the obstinance of the anti-mask crowd.
That isn't true. Masks help, and we should wear them, but they're not a panacea.
Still, they're the focus of intense public comment. Gov. Doug Burgum is pleading with the public to wear them. A group of "fed up" North Dakota doctors have taken to angry public lectures on the subject.
But something is missing from this debate.
How many North Dakotans are wearing masks?
Is mask use going up?
We don't know.
Nobody is tracking it.
There has been some effort to quantify this issue at the national level. Pew did some research, as did Gallup, and there's some New York Times reporting as well, but none of this is done in an official capacity, and none of it is focused on North Dakota.
I reached out to our state government to see if they had any tracking data available.
"I’m not familiar with any such data being tracked by the state," Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki told me in response to an inquiry.
"I’m afraid I’m not very helpful here. We don’t currently have any metrics on mask use in North Dakota," Nicole Peske, the chief communications officer for the Department of Health, told me when I asked her.
She thought maybe public health officials in Grand Forks were working on collecting this sort of data, or that the University of North Dakota was doing some research, but she wasn't sure.
She's going to get back to me.
Whatever the answer is for Grand Forks, doesn't it seem like we could use some statewide data? Something to give us an approximation of what mask-use trends might look like so we could contrast it with other trends like the number of positive tests over a given time period?
The issue we're all grappling with is whether or not masks work. One side of the debate believes they do. The other side thinks they're pointless.
We should be trying to inform that debate.
The pro-mask side wants the government to force people to use masks. A mandate like that would backfire in a place like North Dakota where, love it or hate it, people don't like being told what to do.
Do you know what might help, though? Some transparent data correlating mask use to the reduced spread of the virus.
We probably should've been tracking that all along. That we haven't been is an oversight, albeit an understandable one given all that's going on.
We could start now, though, and perhaps in a matter of weeks have some data in hand that could do more to encourage mask use than all the scolding and mandates the pro-mask side of the debate is capable of.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.