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Birx calls Bismarck's virus protocols the worst she's seen

BISMARCK (AP) — The White House coronavirus response coordinator said Monday that she spent a day looking around Bismarck and found its COVID-19 protocols to be the worst she’s seen anywhere in the country.

Dr. Deborah Birx, whose tour has taken her to nearly 40 states, said she found the absence of face coverings and the lack of social distancing in the North Dakota capital to be “deeply unfortunate” and a danger to public health.

“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,” Birx told reporters after meeting with local, state and tribal leaders. “And we find that deeply unfortunate because you don’t know who’s infected and you don’t know if you’re infected yourself.”

Gov. Doug Burgum has not ordered a statewide mask mandate, instead urging people to wear masks out of personal responsibility and care for others. Burgum, a Republican, said he and Birx “have been in complete agreement since the beginning of this” and “believe that masks work,” The Bismarck Tribune reported.

Birx did not say whether she recommended that Burgum order masks to be worn in public.

North Dakota has had more new cases per capita than any other state over the past two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The Bismarck-Mandan area, in particular, has been a COVID-19 hot spot over the past few months.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 increased by nine on Monday, to 173 statewide, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. That’s the state’s highest daily total.

The update showed 527 new virus cases from 6,660 tests, a daily positivity rate of 8.28%. It’s the first time cases have dipped below 600 since last Wednesday, the day before a record total of 1,038 daily positives. A total of 38,241 people have become infected since the start of the pandemic.