Story at a glance
- New cases are surging in North Dakota, outpacing spring and summer upticks.
- Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has refused to invoke a statewide mask order.
As one of the states leading the fall surge in COVID-19 infections, North Dakota has experienced record-breaking daily new cases, reportedly leading the spread of deaths per capita in the U.S.
Data comparison indicates that over the course of one month, the North Dakota Department of Health saw a 167 percent increase in active COVID-19 cases from the prior month.
The Dickinson Press reports that on Oct. 2, the state reported 3,158 residents with positive COVID-19 infections. As of Monday, Nov. 1, about 8,440 residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Additional data aggregated by The New York Times confirms this, showcasing a 59 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks, as well as corresponding increases in both hospitalizations and deaths.
Due to the increasing caseloads, hospitalization capacity is brimming, with just 11.41 percent of staffed beds available statewide.
The majority of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 infections are ages 50 or above.
Despite this staggering uptick in cases across the state, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has not issued a statewide order mandating masks be worn in public spaces.
Burgum has reportedly urged residents to wear masks per the recommendation of numerous public health experts, although most of the state's counties are classified as a high risk level for COVID-19 infections.
Burgum explained his decision to not enforce masks on the state level last week, saying that the pandemic “...is a battle, just like a flood fight, that needs to be fought locally.” The decision to leave mask mandates up to individual municipalities carries no enforcement or penalties, according to The Bismarck Tribune, leaving little incentive for the public to diligently wear masks in public.
The lack of public health practices have earned swift criticism from experts. Deborah Birx, an infectious diseases expert with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, urged the public to wear masks, noting mask-wearing in Bismark is among the lowest she has seen in her professional travels.
"Over the last 24 hours as we were here and we were in your grocery stores and in your restaurants and frankly even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been," she told reporters. "And we find that deeply unfortunate because you don't know who's infected and you don't know if you're infected yourself."