North Dakota governor announces statewide mask mandate as coronavirus cases surge

North Dakota governor announces statewide mask mandate as coronavirus cases surge

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced a mask mandate for the state Friday evening, as confirmed coronavirus cases rose to record levels.

Masks must be worn inside businesses, indoor public spaces and in outside public spaces when social distancing is impossible, the rules state.

The order, signed by interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke, takes effect immediately and runs through Dec. 13. It is intended to help alleviate hospitals overwhelmed by virus patients, a news release from the governor said.

“Our doctors and nurses heroically working on the front lines need our help, and they need it now,” Burgum, a Republican, said in a video message announcing the measures. “Since the beginning, we’ve taken a data-driven approach to our pandemic response, focusing on saving lives and livelihoods. Right now, the data demands a higher level of mitigation efforts to reverse these dangerous trends, to slow the spread of this virus and to avoid the need for economic shutdowns.”

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“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” he added. “Tonight, we’re announcing four measures designed to reduce the spread of infections in our communities to protect our most vulnerable and to ensure hospital capacity.”

The mandate excludes children under 5, those with breathing conditions who can’t safely wear a mask and does not apply to religious services.

“The most effective weapon against COVID-19 is wearing a mask,” Wilke said, according to the release. “This is a simple tool, but one that’s critical in helping protect our loved ones and slow the spread.”

All bars and restaurants will also be limited to 50% capacity and must be closed for dine-in services between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

“For those that were already following the ND Smart Restart recommendations of 25 percent capacity in high-risk counties, the change will allow them to safely welcome more customers into their establishments with masking and distancing requirements,” the release noted, adding that Burgum said the state will soon make $54 million available through a hospitality grant program for small businesses.

An additional and $70 million will be used to buy down interest on the eligible existing debt for any business “whose revenue was impacted negatively by COVID-19.”

Event venues are limited to 25 % capacity.

All high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities will be suspended until Dec. 14.

“Despite North Dakota’s remarkable efforts at testing and case finding, these measures are no longer enough, and we are now in desperate need of implementing stronger measures in order to save lives and preserve our health care workforce and capacity,” said Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist, professor of public health at North Dakota State University and physician adviser to the state’s COVID-19 response.

Anyone who violates the order will be cited for an infraction, though it wasn’t specified what the penalty would be and Burgum said he was telling officers to stress education over enforcement.

“We believe in North Dakotans. We believe in the power of individual responsibility. And we need individual responsibility now more than ever to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Burgum said.