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North Dakota's Gov. Burgum Extends Mask Mandate, Limits Gatherings

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday extended an executive order that requires people wear masks and limits the size of gatherings until next month but will allow high school sports to resume next week.

The Republican governor issued the executive order on Nov. 13, and it was set expire Sunday. The mandate, which has been extended until Jan. 18, 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.

Burgum also directed all bars and 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. The governor extended that part of the order until Jan 8., saying the shorter extension "recognizes the economic impact" the restrictions have placed on businesses.

Until last month, Burgum had resisted restrictions but relented after increased pressure from doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to stem a coronavirus surge that is among the worst in the U.S., which has distressed the state's hospitals. The governor said the order, along with individual efforts by citizens, has appeared to be an "effective mitigation tool" in driving down the number of active cases and positivity rates but "hospitalizations and deaths remain far too high."

Since the order has gone into effect, North Dakota has dropped from first to 10th in the country for new cases per capita in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Burgum already had reversed course on part of his original order, allowed winter sports practices and other extracurricular activities to resume at the end of November. Burgum's office said the move followed feedback from legislators, parents, school administrators, students, coaches, mental health professionals and others concerned about the impact the suspension of activities would have on students' well-being. Burgum said sports competition may now resume on Dec. 14, a day after the original order expires.

The North Dakota Health Department said the state expects the coronavirus vaccine to be available later this month, with front-line health care workers and nursing home residents to be first in line to receive it.

Vaccinations for the general public could be available in the spring, said Molly Howell, the agency's immunization program manager.

Health officials on Wednesday recorded 473 new coronavirus infections. That raises the statewide total since the pandemic reached North Dakota in mid-March to more than 86,000.

Officials said there were 16 new deaths in the last day, raising the total number of fatalities to 1,080. More than 100 people have died in the past week in North Dakota.

The number of North Dakota patients hospitalized was 284 on Wednesday, down 44 from Tuesday. There were 666 new recoveries reported, bringing the total number to 80,515 since the pandemic began.

State data show there were 24 staffed Intensive Care Unit beds and 270 staffed inpatient beds available in the state on Wednesday.

(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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