By Mike Moen, Prairie News Service
As of late, North Dakota’s coronavirus case numbers have seen some record highs. A new mask awareness campaign, soon to be launched by the state, aims to reverse that trend.
But some wonder if the effort has all the right components. North Dakota will spend nearly $2 million in federal relief money to educate the public about the benefits of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. However, the state still won’t issue a mask mandate.
North Dakota State University communications professor Carrie Anne Platt said there’s evidence the two work well together.
“We know from the research that having a mandate or an ordinance in place paired with a really strong educational campaign tends to result in the highest level of compliance,” Platt said.
Publicly, Gov. Doug Burgum has stated strong support for wearing masks, but has resisted a mandate, saying he hopes residents will wear masks out of a sense of personal responsibility. He added part of his decision was out of concern that a requirement might make opponents feel more emboldened to defy such an order.
Many of those who oppose the implementation of a mask mandate say it would violate their personal freedoms.
Platt said effective messaging should convey that masks could play a role in helping to slow the spread of the virus, potentially giving people more freedom to be active during the crisis. And she said shaming people into wearing them doesn’t work.
“All of us as humans do not react well to being shamed for our behavior, and it’s not likely to result in future compliance from that individual,” she said.
Other communications and health experts say the “no-shaming” tip goes for all members of the public, not just government agencies. They say people calling out fellow shoppers in stores and other settings for not wearing masks could backfire in trying to boost compliance.