North Dakotans react to mask mandate, new measures

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Friday night, Gov. Doug Burgum announced four measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“To be clear, these are statewide requirements, not simply recommendations,” he said in his video posted late Friday.

Those requirements include a statewide mask mandate, with law enforcement authorized to cite infractions for non-compliance. Starting Monday, there will be half capacity at bars and restaurants, no in-person service from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., and a pause on the the start of winter sports.

“Right now the data demands a higher level of mitigation efforts to reverse these dangerous trends,” Burgum said.

The decision comes as active cases have hit record highs, the state has surpassed 700 deaths, and hospitals have hit capacity.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said.

Saturday afternoon, people gathered at the Capitol outside the governor’s residence, protesting his order.

“The governor’s order last night is criminal. Masks do not work,” said Tomi Collins, Executive Director of America Restored.

Not everyone is happy with the move, including Bismarck City Commissioner Mark Splonskowski who strongly opposed mask mandates when the issue came up at a commission meeting last month.

“It is against the rights of the people. It’s unconstitutional,” Splonskowski said. “Call your local county sheriff, those are the people who have to enforce this.”

But it’s a relief for others, including doctors who for months have made public pleas for a mandate.

“I want to congratulate the governor for making the right decision. I know there have been multiple interests at play in making this decision and that it was not easy,” Dr. Kathy Anderson, President of the North Dakota American Academy of Pediatrics said.

For citizens just ready to see the pandemic end, they say it’s worth a try.

“It was inevitable, I hate wearing the mask but I think if it helps society move along with this, then let’s just give it a try,” Bismarck resident Dean Anagnost said.

Some say they’re glad to see the governor change course, but wish it came sooner.

“It should’ve been done earlier, nationwide if it could’ve been a heavy nationwide mandate, we could’ve curbed it down, maybe right around now we could’ve been opening things up,” Bismarck resident Chris Sanjuan said.

Matti Biel says the measures could help the state return to normalcy.

“A lot of peoples’ safety is at risk, first of all, and also there’s a lot of activities people want to participate in and for that to happen, masks are a necessity,” Biel said.

Though law enforcement can cite individuals not complying, Mandan Police Lieutenant Peter Czapiewski says education is the first priority.

“Basically looking at this as educational — we’re not proactively enforcing, we’re going to make sure that any call we respond to or have issues with people with mask mandates, not wearing masks, they’re just educated knowing about the order,” Czapiewski said. “We’re not looking to upend peoples’ lives, but give a warning, basically educate them a little bit and go from there.”

Czapiewski said if those not complying were to become aggressive, that could lead to citations in a district court with possible fines.


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