North Dakota’s governor on Friday issued a statewide mask mandate as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the state.
Face coverings will now be required in indoor business and indoor public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible.
The order, signed by interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke, 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.
“The most effective weapon against COVID-19 is wearing a mask,” Wilke said in a statement. “This is a simple tool, but one that’s critical in helping protect our loved ones and slow the spread.”
The order came days after the North Dakota Nurses Association called for a statewide mask mandate and other public health measures.
Burgum also signed an executive order that limits all bars and restaurants to 50 percent capacity — not to exceed 150 customers. Food service establishments must be closed to in-person service between 10 p.m. and 4 p.m. but take-out, curbside and delivery options are allowed to operate.
The governor also suspended all high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities are suspended until Dec. 14. The pause in activities is aimed at keeping cases low enough to allow schools to stay open for in-person learning with masks and physical distancing.
The governor also warned North Dakotans to try to limit gatherings to their immediate household group during the holiday season.
“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.
The United States is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, while fatalities have also gone up.
North Dakota as of Thursday had recorded nearly 700 total deaths from the coronavirus, a red flag in a state with a population of 760,000 people.
On Saturday, there were 10,486 active positive cases in the state, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. In total, 60,602 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
The sharp increase in cases had led to a staff shortage among health care workers and a shortage of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
Burgum took an extraordinary step on Monday and announced that health care workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic can keep working in coronavirus units.