BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced a new campaign to encourage residents to wear facemasks as active COVID-19 cases reached a pandemic high on Monday, Aug. 10.
Burgum, who usually enters his weekly news conferences without a mask, wore one as he approached the lectern to announce the #MaskUpND social media campaign. He encouraged residents to post photos of themselves wearing masks on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag.
Burgum echoed messaging from federal health agencies, saying mask-wearing is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to prevent the virus from spreading. He also lamented the rise in misinformation about mask-wearing as the issue has become political for some Americans who rejected the public health measure.
Interim State Health Officer Andrew Stahl said he's glad many schools across the state have opted to require mask-wearing when reopening this fall, adding that parents should be role models for their parents by wearing masks in public.
Burgum commended business owners who have chosen to require masks in their stores and workplaces, but he did not directly answer a question about mandating masks in the state Capitol or other public buildings. The Republican governor has so far said he has no intention of issuing a statewide mask order as many other states have done.
Burgum also announced Monday that North Dakota has been selected to be part of a pilot project for COVID-19 vaccine planning.
The governor offered few details about the program run by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention other than to say that teams from the CDC and the Department of Defense will be in the state to create a logistical plan for distributing a hypothetical vaccine to residents.
The federal agencies chose North Dakota for the program, in part, because they are interested in forming plans for vaccine distribution on Native American reservations, of which the state has five. The program is solely intended to figure out the logistics of distributing a vaccine if one becomes available and does not involve clinical trials on any willing or unwilling subjects.
The other three states in the program are Minnesota, Florida and California, as well as the city of Philadelphia, Burgum said.
Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health reported 117 new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 1,166 North Dakotans known to be infected with the virus, marking the highest point of the pandemic. The continuous rise in active cases last month has not subsided as parts of the state near a return to in-classroom instruction for school-aged children.
The department also announced Monday that a Stutsman County woman in her 70s has died from the illness. Stutsman County lies in the eastern part of the state and includes Jamestown. Like the vast majority of North Dakotans who have succumbed to the illness, the department reports that she had underlying health conditions.
The department says 113 North Dakotans have died from the illness, including 76 residents of Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo. Sixty-seven of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. There still are four deaths that remain in a "presumed positive" category, which means a medical professional determined that COVID-19 was a cause of death but the person was not tested for the illness while he or she was alive.
Thirty of the new cases came from Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck. The county emerged as the state's hotspot last month and has by far the most active cases with 294. Morton County, which sits just west of Burleigh County and includes Mandan, reported 16 new cases and now has 115 active cases for the second most in the state.
Ward County, which includes Minot, reported 12 new cases of the virus. Another 11 new cases came from McLean County, which lies north of Bismarck.
Just seven of the new cases reported Monday came from Cass County, which has 107 active cases. Six new cases came from Grand Forks County.
Twenty-three counties reported at least one case Monday, including many small, rural counties. Burgum said it appears the virus is spreading more rapidly in rural areas, and residents across the state should take basic precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing.
There are now 48 residents hospitalized with the illness, up one from Sunday.
About 2.6% of the 4,590 test results announced Monday came back positive, but 6% of residents tested for the first time received a positive result.
North Dakota does not regularly report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate as many other states do, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 5.3% for tests taken on previously untested residents.
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