North Dakota Legislature votes to require masks at Capitol

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers decided Thursday to require masks at the state Capitol, despite opposition by ultraconservative members of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Senate and House lawmakers approved rules Thursday for the session that convenes Jan. 5.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said they support a mask mandate at Capitol legislative spaces to help protect lawmakers and the public.

A memo written by the Legislature’s lawyers to the Legislature said the lawmakers have the authority to impose restrictions on areas of the Capitol controlled by the legislative branch. Lawmakers who ignore the mandate may be removed by law enforcement and charged with a misdemeanor crime or expelled from the Legislature.

Gov. Doug Burgum imposed a mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that is among the worst in the U.S. and that threatens to overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

State health officials on Thursday reported 11 new deaths due to complications from the coronavirus, increasing the total number of fatalities to 977.

A total of 978 new positive tests also were reported Thursday.

Hospitalizations due to complications from the coronavirus increased by five to 306, according to state health officials.

Also Thursday, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office reported that 27 inmates and three staff have tested positive for COVID-19, less than a week after the jail saw its first positive case in an inmate in the general population.

The Sheriff’s Office was notified on Nov. 27 that an inmate in the general population had tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, 260 inmates and 102 staff members were tested. The positive cases were traced to one general population unit, and the majority of those testing positive are asymptomatic, with a few experiencing mild symptoms, the Sheriff’s Office said.