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North Dakota governor enacts statewide mask mandate after long holdout

Under pressure from health professionals, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ordered a statewide mask mandate as COVID-19 cases and deaths rise.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ordered a statewide mask mandate and imposed some business restriction late Friday in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus that has stressed the state’s hospital capacity.

The Republican governor’s executive order comes after increased pressure from doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to require face coverings. The order goes into effect Saturday and will last until Dec. 13.

Burgum said in a statement that doctors and nurses “need our help, and they need it now.”

North Dakota becomes the 35th state to issue a mask mandate, according to AARP.

The mandate requires residents to wear face coverings in indoor businesses and indoor public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible.

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The order also includes exceptions for children under age 5, individuals with a medical or mental health condition or disability that makes it unreasonable to wear a mask, and religious services.

Failure to comply with the mandate is an infraction, with a penalty of up to $1,000, though it’s not clear how the order will be enforced.

Burgum also directed all bars, restaurants to limit capacity to 50%, and closed all in-person service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Large-scale venues also are limited to 25% capacity.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this April 10, 2020, file photo, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. North Dakota and South Dakota have the nation's worst rate of coronavirus deaths per capita in the last 30 days. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

Playoff championship contests and performance events sponsored by the North Dakota High School Activities Association during the month of November may continue, under the order. But all high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities are suspended until Dec. 14.

Burgum said the pause in activities will help keep schools open to in-person instruction.

The order comes after the state reached a grim new milestone on Friday, as its COVID-19 death toll eclipsed the 700 mark, rising by 10 to 707, according to state health data.

The deaths reported Friday bring the total to 144 in November alone, or about a dozen deaths daily for the month.

Health officials on Friday also recorded 1,441 new coronavirus infections. That raises the statewide total since the pandemic reached North Dakota in mid-March to 60,602.

Burgum for months had avoided statewide mandates such as mask-wearing and business occupancies, instead stressing a personal responsibility message.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a video message posted at 10 p.m. Friday.

There were 2,373 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, Johns Hopkins University researchers said. One in every 81 people in North Dakota have tested positive for the virus in the past week.

The number of North Dakota patients currently hospitalized was 293 on Friday, down one from Thursday. There were 1,354 new recoveries reported, bringing the total number to 49.409 since the pandemic began.

There were only nine staffed intensive care beds and 160 staffed inpatient beds available in the state on Friday.

TEGNA Staff contributed to this report.