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North Dakota to drop mask requirement, restaurant limits

January 15, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday said he will drop a statewide mask requirement as well as limits on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues, citing a dramatic drop in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.

The Republican governor said he will allow an executive order to expire on Monday, as scheduled.

“The fight is far from over but we can certainly see the light of the end of the tunnel from here,” he said.

Burgum issued the executive order on Nov. 13 and extended it once. The mandate requires people to wear face coverings in indoor businesses and indoor public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible.

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Burgum earlier this month eased restrictions on food service establishments, allowing them to operate at 65% capacity, up from 50%. Banquet, ballroom and event venues, which had been limited to 25% capacity, were able to operate at 50%.

Since the order has taken effect, North Dakota has dropped from first to 49th in the country for new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. While some people credit those measures for the decline, others say they infringed on personal freedom. Several anti-mask bills introduced by far-right Republicans are pending in the Legislature.

Burgum said mid-November active cases dropped more than 80%, from 10,224 to 1,675; hospitalizations due to COVID have decreased by nearly 74%, to 88 on Friday.

Health officials on Friday recorded 233 new coronavirus infections. That raises the statewide total since the pandemic reached North Dakota in mid-March to nearly 95,600.

Officials said there were eight new deaths in the last day, raising the total number of fatalities to 1,373.

Burgum said more than 76,000 people in North Dakota have been vaccinated, though Molly Howell, the state immunization program manager, said there is an “extremely limited” supply of vaccine on hand.

She said the state is only allocated 10,000 doses of the vaccine weekly and didn’t know when the number would increase.

Burgum said North Dakota ranks No. 2 in the percentage of received vaccine doses administered, at 62%, and No. 4 in first doses administered per capita.”

“We’re racing to get as many of those in arms as possible,” Burgum said.