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Former North Dakota chief justice tests positive for COVID

August 6, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s former Supreme Court chief justice has tested positive for COVID-19, court officials said Thursday.

Gerald VandeWalle, who turns 87 this month, is currently receiving medical treatment, court administrator Sally Holewa said in a statement.

“I can’t provide any further details about his medical condition” she said

VandeWalle was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1978 and served as chief justice from 1993 until last year, when he did not seek reappointment as chief. He had been the longest-serving chief justice in state history and remains on the court.

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He was reelected to his fourth 10-year term on the state’s high court in 2014. His term will expire in 2024.

A telephone listing for VandeWalle was not answered on Thursday.

VandeWalle never married. Daniel Kuntz, who is married to VandeWalle’s niece, Mary, said for privacy reasons he could not comment on VandeWalle’s condition or treatment.

“We’re hoping for a speedy recovery,” he told The Associated Press.

Chief Justice Jon Jenson told the Bismarck Tribune that people working in close contact with VandeWalle all have tested negative.

While most court employees and other justices have been working remotely since the pandemic began, Holewa told the AP VandeWalle had been working “from the Capitol on a daily basis.”

Most North Dakota state government offices reopened in June in a limited capacity and a month after businesses in the state restarted with precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

About 1,200 people work at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Those entering the Capitol must have their temperature checked, but masks are not required. While it is unclear how VandeWalle was infected with the virus, only a small percentage of state workers or legislators wear masks at the Capitol.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has not mandated masks statewide or at the Capitol, though he and his staff wear them.

“The governor strongly encourages everyone to wear a mask where social distancing is difficult,” spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

Nowatzki said the governor would not comment on VandeWalle’s cornonavirus infection and referred questions to the high court.

Only one lawmaker, Bismarck GOP Rep. Mike Nathe, has publicly disclosed testing positive for the virus.

VandeWalle grew up on a dairy farm in the tiny town of Noonan and is a University of North Dakota graduate. “Jerry,” as he prefers to be called outside the courtroom, was presented the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, in 2015 during a joint session of the Legislature.