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After resisting calls for it, North Dakota's governor issues a mask order
Executive order also limits capacity at some businesses, delays winter sports season
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After weeks of rising COVID-19 infection rates and strain on the state’s health care system and after months of calls from public health officials in North Dakota and nationwide, Gov. Doug Burgum announced Friday, Nov, 13 that a mask order would go into effect Saturday

Burgum announced a State Health Officer order requiring face coverings in a news release Friday. The order, signed by interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke requires face coverings to be worn in indoor businesses and indoor public settings as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible.

The order is effective from Nov. 14 through Dec. 13. It 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 religious services.

“Right now, the data demands a higher level of mitigation efforts to reverse these dangerous trends, to slow the spread of this virus and to avoid the need for economic shutdowns,” Burgum said in a video message announcing the mask order and several other measures. “Our situation has changed, and we must change with it. Tonight, we’re announcing four measures designed to reduce the spread of infections in our communities to protect our most vulnerable and to ensure hospital capacity.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that “adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns,” and that masks protect not only the people around the individual wearing the mask but also the mask wearer.

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

On Monday, the McKenzie County Sheriff said his office would not enforce the mask order. Under state law, violation of a State Health Officer’s order could be punished as an infraction, with a fine of up to $1,000. In his announcement, Burgum asked law enforcement to prioritize education over enforcement.

In a letter explaining his decision, McKenzie County Sheriff Matthew Johansen cited the North Dakota Constitution and wrote enforcing a mask mandate on individuals or businesses would violate their liberty.

“As Sheriff, I believe the Constitution and Declaration of Independence say it best that we should each be free to govern ourselves as a state and as a nation,” Johansen wrote. “To that accord this mandate is not a law that we have passed or desired to see passed. With that established the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing any such mandate.”

Burgum signed an executive order today to implement the other mitigation measures, which take effect Monday, Nov. 16, and are as follows:

All bars, restaurants and food service establishments are limited to 50 percent of their licensed seated capacity, not to exceed 150 patrons, and are closed to in-person service between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Take-out, curbside and delivery will still be allowed during those hours, and Burgum encouraged North Dakotans to take advantage and support local businesses.

All banquet, ballroom and event venues are limited to 25 percent of their maximum occupancy, not to exceed new capacity limits that have been established with input from venues and local public health officials based on the size of the venue. Physical distancing and masks will be required for the safety of all venue personnel and patrons.

Playoff championship contests and performance events sponsored by the North Dakota High School Activities Association during the month of November may continue under NDHSAA requirements. All high school winter sports and other extracurricular K-12 school activities are suspended until Dec. 14. This also applies to all association, community and club sports for youth and adults. College and intercollegiate activities must follow guidance from the North Dakota University System and their respective national organizations.

Burgum said the four-week pause in activities will help keep schools open to in-person instruction – the optimal learning environment for most students – and ensure that students continue to follow the mitigation strategies of wearing a mask and physical distancing.

“I fully support and endorse the orders signed today by Gov. Burgum and the State Health Officer,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, North Dakota’s chief health strategist and dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. “We as citizens of North Dakota need to act now to limit further spread of the virus and thus prevent our hospital capacity from being threatened. Let’s do these things now so that by Thanksgiving the pandemic situation in North Dakota will be headed in the right direction.”

Those who violate the mask and capacity requirements may be cited for an infraction. Burgum urged law enforcement and public health agencies to prioritize education in their enforcement, providing warnings and education about the risk of transmission, while reserving penalties for the most egregious violations that put public health at risk.

Industries not covered by the executive order should continue to follow the North Dakota Smart Restart guidelines.

“Despite North Dakota’s remarkable efforts at testing and case finding, these measures are no longer enough, and we are now in desperate need of implementing stronger measures in order to save lives and preserve our health care workforce and capacity,” said Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist, professor of public health at North Dakota State University and physician advisor to the state’s COVID-19 response. “We have a growing body of good evidence that masking, especially when paired with other mitigation strategies, can substantially reduce the spread of the virus. I am very grateful that the Governor has taken the bold measure to implement an enforced mask mandate across the state, and am hopeful this will help to flatten the curve.”

Medical experts say small social gatherings with family and friends are also driving the current COVID-19 surge across the nation. Burgum urged North Dakotans to try to limit gatherings to their immediate household group as much as possible for the next four weeks and to wear a mask if gathering with people from outside the household.

“We believe in North Dakotans. We believe in the power of individual responsibility. And we need individual responsibility now more than ever to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Burgum said.

McVay Elementary collects for those in need during Sockvember
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With winter weather creeping up around the corner, McVay Elementary students are coming together to help keep people warm through the bitter chill.

The school has been involved in several social-emotional learning projects, often giving back to those in need. This month, students have been participating in Sockvember, collecting pairs of socks to donate to various organizations. McVay librarian Terri Firth spearheaded the idea, enticing the classes with the promise of a sock-hop party for whoever collects the most footwear. The school has only been collecting for the last two weeks, and Firth said the project is already wildly successful. So far, she said, students have collected more than 1,295 pairs of socks.

“It’s way beyond what I thought it was going to be.” Firth told the Williston Herald. “I had no idea what to expect, but (the students) have gone way above and beyond. It’s just been amazing.”

Firth said the kindergarten class alone brought in over 500 pairs, and an anonymous alumni donated money for the school to purchase even more. Firth said the socks will go to school’s pantry, the McKinney-Vento homeless program, the Family Crisis Shelter and other in-need organizations. In addition, Firth said the school’s second graders recently completed a compassion project of their own, collecting 60 to 70 blankets to donate along with the socks.

Firth said that getting the kids involved in these kinds of projects helps them to better connect to those around them and understand what it means to be part of a community. Creating projects that go along with the lessons helps the students feel empowered that they are making a difference.

“Having the kids be involved and showing them about compassion and gratitude is very important.” she said. “The kids are really buying in to the message, and it’s really great.”

The socks and blankets will be distributed starting on Thursday, Nov 19, and anyone who wishes to donate to the program can contact the school throughout the week.

Library stays connected with virtual programs
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With many organizations offering virtual programs, the Williston Community Library is taking the idea further with their Virtual STEAM program.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the library has not hosted any in-person programming since March. in that time, they have come up with a number of ways to stay connected with their patrons while remaining safe. One such program is the bi-monthly virtual STEAM workshops, hosted by Children’s Librarian Morgan Cote. Cote comes up simple projects that kids can do at home with adult supervision, then creates a video of herself reading a story related to the project before demonstrating it.

The best part of the program is that all the materials needed to complete the project are provided. The library puts together 25 kits for each project, which are free to those interested. Cote then uses those supplies and shows step by step how each project is done. Dancing corn kernels, elephant toothpaste and pumpkin volcanoes are just a few of the projects the workshop has done. Library Director Andrea Placher said the projects are meant to be fun while still sneaking some learning in as well.

“We like to come up with things that are easy enough to be done at home, but cool enough that hopefully that science is neat.” Placher told the Williston Herald.

Placher said the STEAM workshop and other virtual programs are important for keeping the library involved with the community.

“We want to show our community that even though the library’s door’s are closed, we are still very busy behind them trying to provide these learning experiences and create these memories for our families,” she said. “And not just for the kids, I think a lot the grownups learn from them and enjoy them as well.”

Aside from the STEAM activities, the library has a myriad of other resources available that can be accessed virtually, including books, magazines, music and more. Physical materials can still be checked-out with Library Pick-up via the website or by calling ahead. Placher said the library recently purchased an app called Tumblebooks, which is a learning program to assist youth and teens. Placher said the one of the main benefits of Tumblebooks is that kids can access them at any time, rather than having to wait for them to be returned.

Visit www.willistonlibrary.com to take advantage the library’s online services. The next virtual STEAM workshop is Friday, Nov 20. Kits can be reserved by calling the Williston Community Library at 701-774-8805. The STEAM project will be released at 4 p.m. on Nov 20 on the library’s Facebook and YouTube page.

La Nina has come out to play — kids, not so much
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Little La Nina has come out to play, and as many of the area’s weather buffs can tell you, that means winter is likely to trend colder and wetter than usual in the MonDak.

La Nina means little girl in Spanish. It refers to the weather pattern that develops when the sea’s surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific are consistently cooler than average for an extended period of time. These cool waters move the jet stream around a little bit, which in turn affects the general weather pattern here in the MonDak.

Of course, every La Nina is a little different. But there are some generally predictable tantrums ... er patterns. Among these, the polar jet stream is typically pushed further south than usual, and that leads to colder than usual temperatures.

While the La Nina effect is a broad pattern, it doesn’t generally have specific effects on things like when the first freeze in the fall happens, or the last freeze in the spring. Nor does it necessarily lessen the potential for blizzards, or the intensity of any particular storm or weather event. It also doesn’t necessarily affect drought or flooding in the spring.

According to the Climate prediction Center, there is greater than an 85 percent chance that our La Nina will be sticking around through the winter. There’s also a 60 percent chance she will persist through early spring.

The most recent La Nina was in 2017-18, and it was a weak pattern. Most of the region was colder than normal, but only Montana saw more moisture than usual. North Dakota was drier.

Only time will tell whether this La Nina will behave according to predictions, but it’s best to be prepared in either case for what could be a colder and wetter winter than usual.

North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association announces anonymous tip app
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A new app to anonymously report substance misuse statewide has launched.

Developed by tip411, the NDTip app puts a powerful new tool into the hands of community members of all ages. The NDTip app is available for download for free via the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store.

“Sheriffs and Deputies have been proudly serving North Dakota’s 53 counties since 1889,” said President Chad Kaiser of Stutsman County. “The Sheriffs of North Dakota believe in pride, dedication and service to their counties, and the addition of tip411 in many of our communities will be an important tool that can be used by residents of all ages.”

The app is part of a statewide anonymous tip system to connect residents with law enforcement to help prevent substance misuse and keep communities safe.

Many communities across North Dakota currently use tip411, which allows them to work closely with other local departments across multiple jurisdictions to share information and expand the reach of this new anonymous tip system.

The NDTip app and tip411 system are anonymous, as the technology removes all identifying information before law enforcement see the tips and there is no way to identify the sender.