BISMARCK, ND (AP) – North Dakotans seem to have largely accepted the state’s new mask mandate, but they successfully shouted bad when it came to restricting high school sports to help control the spread of coronavirus.
Giving in to political and public revolt, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has reversed course and will allow winter sports practices and other recreational activities to resume in late November, though sports competition remains suspended until mid-December.
Burgum announced the change late Wednesday with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner.
Burgum’s office said the move follows feedback from lawmakers, parents, school administrators, students, coaches, psychiatric professionals and others concerned about the impact the suspension of activities will have on student well-being.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor’s office had been flooded with calls and messages from voters who were opposed to putting sports practices and other activities on hold.
Nowatzki said the governor did not cave for pressure, but instead “responded to feedback.”
“Our goals remain unchanged: to protect the most vulnerable, provide relief to our stressed hospitals and healthcare professionals, keep students in schools and businesses open, and preserve the winter sports season,” Burgum said in a statement.
The order, issued last week, also required people to wear masks inside businesses and public buildings as well as outside when physical distance is not possible. It includes exceptions for children under 5 years of age, persons with a medical or mental health condition or disability that makes it unreasonable to wear a mask and during religious services.
Wardner said the issue of suspending sports practices and leisure activities was one of the most controversial topics he has seen in nearly 30 years in the legislature. Some people “grabbed” the mask mandate, but excluding the high school practice “was the No. 1 complaint,” he said.
“Three-on-one, people were crazy about the approach,” he said.
Wardner said the governor did not consult legislative leaders until he issued the ordinance last week, but met with them after.
“There was pressure from us and others,” Wardner said of changing the order. “I’m an old high school teacher and coach, and I know the students would group up and go somewhere else – so we solved nothing.”
The governor plans to issue an amended order that will make it possible to resume practices for winter sports in high school and association, community and club sports for youth and adults from 30 November. The competition is suspended until December 14. The four-week time frame will allow two 14-day incubation cycles to pass before competition resumes.
Coaches and athletic associations agree that there is no travel for association activities outside the home, no use of locker rooms, coaches masked at all times, no spectators and facilities limited to players, coaches and staff.
State health officials reported Thursday that there were 276 people in North Dakota hospitalized with COVID-19, which was 21 fewer than Wednesday.
Across the state, there were 179 available beds and only 12 intensive care beds at North Dakota hospitals, according to state data.
The state reported 10 new coronavirus-related deaths, increasing the number of deaths since the pandemic began to 795. The death toll is the eighth highest per capita. Population in the country with 102 deaths per. 100,000 people.
North Dakota continued to position itself first in the country for new cases per. Inhabitant for the last two weeks. One in 79 people in the state tested positive last week, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
Burgum said about 60 U.S. Air Force medical personnel, who are primarily nurses, will deploy to North Dakota on Saturday after the Federal Emergency Management Agency responded to the state’s request for federal assistance. The medical teams will help support at least six hospitals in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks from next week.
A temp agency will also provide an additional 60 nursing staff for hospitals and nursing homes already this weekend, Burgum said.