Decisions made by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on dealing with COVID-19 should first and foremost be based on science. Not politics. The second resignation of the state’s top health officer in recent months indicates that science is taking a backseat to politics.

One main sticking point is that Burgum for too long insisted on keeping the state’s COVID-19 risk level at green, which means low risk. The problem is, the data indicates otherwise. We’re reaching record highs for active cases. Even more astounding, as of earlier this week, North Dakota had the highest number of daily reported cases per capita in the nation.

We should be at a higher risk level. The state has been designated as a hot spot. Other states require North Dakotans to go into quarantine when they come to visit. The dispute over the risk level was possibly a factor in the sudden departure of Dr. Andrew Stahl, the state’s interim health officer. Even Burgum admitted Stahl had been pushing to increase the risk level for North Dakota’s COVID-19 hotspots.

Likewise, as active cases continue to rise, Burgum has acknowledged that the state is “not moving in the right direction.” Still, Burgum refuses to raise the level. Perhaps that’s because a higher level would mean tighter restrictions on business openings and crowd sizes, and Burgum doesn’t want to do that.

The trouble is, too many North Dakotans are not taking this virus seriously. Too many of them are not wearing masks or social distancing. It’s part of that North Dakota mindset, where some don’t like to be told what to do, even if it could save someone’s life. Look at all the people who die in the state because they refuse to wear their seatbelts.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Burgum has done an excellent job of recommending wearing masks and social distancing, but a lot of North Dakotans aren’t listening. That’s why the state needs a mask mandate. Currently, 34 states have such mandates, including many red states.

Burgum’s failure to raise the state’s risk level not only denies reality, but it’s short-sighted. In the long term, the state will be better off with tighter restrictions now. That will likely allow the state’s economy to flourish later.

Don’t just take my word for it. In a letter to several North Dakota newspapers, Dr. Stephen McDonough, former North Dakota Public Health Officer, wrote, “North Dakota is currently fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with one hand tied behind its back. The failure to mount an effective public education effort to increase the public’s use of protective methods has resulted in an alarming surge of cases this summer. The possibility exists of a catastrophic epidemic this fall with multiple deaths and a return to stay-at-home orders.”

He’s right. With President Trump’s disastrous failure to combat COVID-19, it’s up to governors, such as Burgum, to lead based on what’s happening on the ground.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email