FARGO — Due to the coronavirus, October will go down as one of the most catastrophic in the history of North Dakota. It was by far the deadliest month in the state for deaths from COVID-19, while new infections shattered state records. In a nation hit hard by the coronavirus, North Dakota sadly and alarmingly has the highest death rate and rate of new cases in the country.

Several cities have put in mask “mandates,” but those “mandates” are pretty lame. That’s because there are no consequences if people don’t wear masks. If you want to change human behavior there has to be consequences. Could you imagine if there were laws that you can’t murder someone, or can’t drink and drive, but there were no penalties? To put this in perspective, you are much more likely to die from COVID-19 in North Dakota than you are from a drunk driver or from being shot to death.

The lack of leadership from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is appalling. His approach is an enormous failure, and needs to be changed. The state needs a mask mandate with teeth and compulsory restrictions on crowd sizes. Burgum preaches, “personal responsibility.” The trouble is, many North Dakotans are irresponsible. It’s frightening, but not surprising, that Dr. Deborah Birx found that mask wearing in Bismarck was the worst in the country. Burgum needs to start listening to the dozens of doctors and experts who have called for tougher restrictions. How many more North Dakotans have to die or be infected before Burgum takes meaningful action?

At Sanford Hospital in Fargo, they are experiencing a record number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Sanford Dr. Rishi Seth, says it has been hectic and stressful.

“We do not know enough about this disease,” Seth said. “We’re piecemealing treatment options … We’re throwing the kitchen sink at them and hoping that something sticks…I’ve treated people with end of life conditions, but this is different because it can be so sudden … I had a patient I was planning to discharge on Saturday, who was feeling great. Six minutes after I left the room he went into respiratory failure and died.”

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Seth says many of the COVID-19 patients have fevers, headaches, flu like symptoms, diarrhea, shortness of breath, dehydration and inflammation of the lungs.

“The most difficult thing is the emotional aspect of our patients,” Seth said. “The patients sometimes go into a depressed state. They’re very fearful and lonely. They’re terrified … Our nursing staff holds the patients hands for an hour at a time. The patients are extremely afraid and we need to give them comfort.”

It also takes an emotional toll on the medical staff.

“We are so excited to see patients leave, and we line the hallways,” Seth said. “On the other side, there are difficult moments when patients pass away …. We do a debrief and we talk about it. Did the patients suffer and were they comforted? Did they speak to family members?”

It’s time for our elected leaders to take decisive action and lessen the suffering.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com