A statewide mask mandate will likely be lifted on Jan. 18, but doctors say that doesn’t mean wearing a mask is no longer important.

“I wish we would just maintain the same habit,” Dr. Curtis Small, a physician with CHI St. Alexius Medical Center in Williston.

Gov. Doug Burgum announced this week that the order, put in place by interim state Health Officer Dirk Wilke in November, would expire on Monday, Jan. 8. That comes in the wake of a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

As of Friday, Jan. 8, there were 2,122 active COVID-19 cases and 85 people in the hospital with complications from the disease.

Two vaccines have been approved to fight COVID-19, but while the roll out has started, relatively few people have gotten vaccinated so far.

“Social distancing (and wearing masks) will continue to be a very important measure to try and control this virus,” Small said.

Decreasing the risk of COVID-19 is what health care workers are focusing on right now, and they are finding more tools. Drugs like Bamlanivimab can be given to people who are at risk for complications and that can even keep them from getting dangerously ill.

The range of possible severity makes COVID a difficult problem. There can be children in a household with no symptoms while an adult living there might get very seriously ill.

“It’s a very insidious virus,” Small said.

Those serious cases can cause major problems even if the patient survives. Some people who had serious cases of COVID-19 are dealing with serious complications, including loss of lung tissue.

The potential dangers are why overlapping precautions — like wearing masks and staying six feet away from others even while the vaccines are being rolled out — is important.

There are concerns about new strains, including one from the United Kingdom that was recently found in the United States and another that was recently discovered in South Africa. Small said the vaccine has proved effective against the UK strain and scientists are still studying the other variant.

“It’s still wise to get vaccinated,” Small said.

He said he’s gotten the first shot of the Moderna vaccine and had no side effects. Some people do get sore at the injection site or get a headache, though.

“That’s pretty much the most I’ve heard from people getting the vaccine,” he said.

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