By Renae Moch, president, North Dakota Public Health Association

The North Dakota Public Health Association opposes HB 1323 before the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. HB 1323 would limit any state or local elected official or political subdivision from mandating the use of a face mask or facial covering, and if passed, the bill would not allow any organization or private business to require a face covering to enter a place for education, employment or services.

Public health laws have been in place for more than a century. Basic public health mitigation strategies such as mask mandates are critical actions to respond to public health emergencies and lessen the impact of infectious disease outbreaks. These measures are not entered into lightly; they are based on scientific research and guidelines set forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and to save lives and livelihoods. Limiting the ability of government officials to enact proven public health mitigation measures puts the health and safety of our residents and communities at risk.

The statewide mask mandate implemented on Nov. 13, 2020, worked to reduce active cases by 85%, reduce hospitalizations by 70%, and decrease deaths by 86% through the end of the mandate in January 2021, according to data from the North Dakota Department of Health. Many more deaths could have been prevented if a mandate been implemented sooner.

In this past year, we have lived with an unprecedented global pandemic. As of March 29, 2021, 1,466 of our fellow North Dakotans have tested positive and died while infected with COVID-19. Legislation such as HB 1323 would further dilapidate the public health system. As public health professionals, we ask legislators to support our efforts to protect the health and safety of our residents during public health emergencies and prevent future catastrophic events in the future.

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Moch resides in Mandan, N.D.