MOTT, N.D. — Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah D. Warner has said her department will not enforce mask mandates and mandates on businesses with citations following Gov. Doug Burgum's statewide action issued Friday, Nov. 13.

Burgum’s mask mandate comes as his administration released a series of mitigation measures that will remain in effect until Dec. 13. According to the new mandate, face coverings will now be required in indoor business and indoor public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible. Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke signed the order, which includes exceptions for children under age 5, individuals with a medical or mental health condition or disability that makes it unreasonable to wear a mask, and for religious services.

“The most effective weapon against COVID-19 is wearing a mask,” Wilke said in a statement. “This is a simple tool, but one that’s critical in helping protect our loved ones and slow the spread.”

Warner said that her department will continue to prioritize education but would not interfere with any businesses choosing to operate sans mandate requirements.

"Individual business owners will need to decide whether or not they want to comply with the guidelines Gov. Burgum has put forward," Warner said. "Businesses have the right to ask customers to wear masks and can refuse service. If you are uncomfortable wearing a mask, then you also have the right to take your business elsewhere."

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The sheriff's statement comes after receiving questions and concerns from the public regarding the mandates and response plans.

"Hettinger County Sheriff's Office will not be enforcing mask mandates and mandates on businesses with citations," Warner said. "This is a health issue and should not be turned into a criminal issue."

"Hettinger County Sheriff's Office will always do its best to protect its citizens against unjust actions," Warner said in regard to concerns from business owners about possible state actions.

Highlighting mitigation measures citizens can take to avoid the spread of the virus, Warner said she and her department believe that COVID-19 is real and can have serious health complications for elderly citizens and those with underlying health conditions.

"If you are in a public space, try to be aware of the people around you and what expectations they may have regarding their personal space. If we communicate and act respectful towards one another, we should be able to share these public spaces," she said. "We trust that our citizens are capable of taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and others based upon their own unique circumstances."

Hettinger County, which is in southwest North Dakota, has about 2,500 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.