North Dakota mandates masks, limits indoor gatherings as COVID-19 surges

After months of resisting strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, North Dakota officials reversed course and issued a mandate for mask-wearing and other restrictions.

The state health order requires face coverings be worn through Dec. 13 in indoor businesses and other public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible. It 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.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Gov. Doug Burgum said late Friday. “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.”

With more than 60,600 cases, including 1,429 new cases on Friday, North Dakota saw a more than 17% rise in cases in the past seven days, according to the COVID Tracking Project. So far, 570 people have died in the state, and 421 are hospitalized.

That number is straining the state’s health care system and jeopardizing the ability of hospitals to provide treatment, local station KVLY reported.

“Our doctors and nurses heroically working on the front lines need our help, and they need it now,” Burgum said. “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.”

In addition to the masks, the state is ordering that bars, restaurants and food service establishments cap service at 50% of capacity and close in-person service after 10 p.m. Banquet, ballroom and event venues are limited to 25% of their maximum occupancy.

The order also suspended all high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities in an effort to keep schools open, though some playoff championship contests will be allowed to continue.

“We have a growing body of good evidence that masking, especially when paired with other mitigation strategies, can substantially reduce the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist, professor of public health at North Dakota State University and physician advisor to the state’s COVID-19.

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