FARGO — The time has come for North Dakota to adopt a mask mandate. We’ve come to this conclusion reluctantly. But the evidence is undeniable: The pandemic is out of control and getting worse.

Unusual circumstances require unusual actions — especially when human lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Honestly, what’s so intrusive about being told to wear a mask indoors in situations where maintaining a safe distance from others isn’t possible? Overwrought claims that this is an infringement on personal freedom are plain silly.

Here’s something that’s intrusive: government telling businesses how many people to allow inside their establishments.

That’s what just happened when Gov. Doug Burgum announced that he was elevating the risk level of 16 counties, including Cass, to the high-risk orange category. That designation triggers a 25% occupancy limit for businesses, with a cap at 50 people.

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Oh, and it encourages businesses to require masks.

We can do better than that. We must do better than that. If the trajectory of the pandemic doesn’t change, the governor will be forced to announce lockdowns similar to those imposed early in the pandemic.

That would devastate our economy; it would sacrifice livelihoods. Nobody wants to see that happen.

Burgum should listen to the advice of medical professionals and public health experts, including courageous doctors who wrote a signed letter urging him to adopt a mask mandate.

The governor is making increasingly strained arguments that a mask mandate wouldn’t be enforceable. He wondered aloud about how many employees at restaurants actually wash their hands as the signs in bathrooms instruct.

That isn’t what leadership looks like. Personal responsibility, which the governor constantly invokes, only goes so far. As James Madison famously wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

We outlaw murder, yet a few criminals still commit murder. We outlaw speeding, yet some drivers ignore speed limits. We have a raft of laws to protect public health and safety, because experience shows that we need those laws, even if some violate them.

We don’t abandon those mandates, even though they’re not universally abided, because lives are at stake. Requiring masks will help establish them as a social norm; it will make it increasingly conspicuous and uncomfortable for those who don’t wear them.

Masks, we know, aren’t a magic bullet. But they help. The governor noted that North Dakota finds itself in a regional coronavirus storm. But Minnesota, which has a mask mandate, has a much lower infection rate than the Dakotas, which don’t require masks.

The science is clear: masks are effective, possibly more effective than a vaccine. It’s time to require masks in North Dakota.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.