With Only 18 ICU Beds Open, ND Issues Mask Mandate

As state's virus cases spike, Burgum says 'our situation has changed'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2020 5:44 AM CST
ND Governor Changes Mind, Wants Masks
In this April 10, 2020, file photo, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at the state Capitol in Bismarck, ND. After months of resisting ordering the people of North Dakota to wear masks and limit the size of gatherings, the state’s Republican governor has relented.   (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

After months of resisting ordering the people of North Dakota to wear masks and limit the size of gatherings, the state's Republican governor relented in an effort to stem a coronavirus surge that is among the worst in the US and that threatens to overwhelm the state's hospitals. Gov. Doug Burgum's executive order Friday night came as a surprise, reports the AP, and only hours before the state recorded new daily records for hospitalizations and infections. Throughout the pandemic, the former software executive had been leaving it to individuals to slow the spread of the virus, beseeching the public during his weekly press briefings to wear masks but emphasizing a “light touch” by government. But in announcing new restrictions, which will remain in effect until Dec. 13, a somber Burgum said, “Our situation has changed, and we must change with it."

Burgum said the state's doctors and nurses “need our help, and they need it now.” As of Saturday, there were only 18 free ICU beds and 178 non-ICU beds in state hospitals. Health care professionals and some community leaders had been pleading for months with Burgum to impose such restrictions. On a tour of Bismarck last month, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, described the state’s mask use and COVID-19 protocols as the worst she had seen in the country. Rachel Heintz, an ER nurse at a Bismarck hospital, said that she was relieved a mask order was issued. “It’s about time,” she said. Nurses and other health care professionals have been frustrated that their calls for a mask mandate had been ignored. “Nurses are used to shouldering a big burden, but when you see us cracking, you know how big of a toll this is taking on us,” she said. There were 2,373 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which was the highest rate in the country, Johns Hopkins University researchers said.

(More coronavirus stories.)

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