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In reversal, North Dakota governor issues mask mandate, other steps to slow virus

In reversal, North Dakota governor issues mask mandate, other steps to slow virus

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Gov. Doug Burgum reversed his stance on a statewide mask mandate late Friday, announcing that he has issued one in an effort to alleviate the strain facing North Dakota’s health care system as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

The governor also said he will restrict the capacity of restaurants and events, close in-person service at bars and restaurants at 10 p.m., and suspend high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities until Dec. 14.

Unlike many local mandates, the statewide order can be punishable by an infraction. However, how the mandate would be enforced was not clear.

Burgum made the sweeping announcement in a video, saying the rising coronavirus figures require a “higher level of mitigation” to slow the spread of the virus and avoid an economic shutdown.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a video message. “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 mask mandate takes effect Saturday under an order from the Burgum administration. It requires that people wear a face covering in indoor businesses and in indoor public settings where people cannot maintain physical distancing.

Children under age 5 do not have to comply, and the order includes exceptions for people with a disability or a medical or mental health condition “that makes it unreasonable” to wear a mask.

The order is in effect through Dec. 13.

Effective 8 a.m. Monday, bars and restaurants can serve only takeout or delivery between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Bars and restaurants are limited to 50% of capacity, not to exceed 150 customers.

Banquet and event venues are limited to 25% of their maximum occupancy. Social distancing and masks will be required.

Though all high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities are suspended until Dec. 14, Burgum is allowing playoff championship contests and performances sponsored by the North Dakota High School Activities Association to continue during November.

The temporary suspension of winter sports and school activities also applies to association, community and club sports for youth and adults.

College sports and activities will follow guidance from the North Dakota University System and national organizations.

Violations of the order are considered an infraction. An infraction carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Repeat violations could lead to a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $1,500 and/or 30 days in jail.

Businesses not covered by the executive order should continue to follow the North Dakota Smart Restart guidelines.

For months, Burgum has brushed aside calls from health officials and workers for a mask mandate, advocating instead for “personal responsibility” in mask wearing. He has encouraged local leaders to step up, and a number of city governments have issued mask mandates in recent weeks, including Bismarck and Mandan.

Several city leaders have said a statewide policy would be more effective.

Friday’s announcement comes after the number of active virus cases statewide more than doubled over the course of the past month, reaching 10,486.

Since the start of the pandemic, 707 North Dakotans have died with COVID-19.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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