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Law enforcement leaders say education key to mask mandate

BISMARCK (AP) — Violations of North Dakota’s mask mandate carry a possible fine of up to $1,000. But many law enforcement leaders say issuing a citation for failing to wear a face covering is a last resort and that education is the priority.

Gov. Doug Burgum encouraged law enforcement to prioritize education when he imposed the mandate Friday after months of refraining from an order. He also issued an executive order limiting capacity for bars, restaurants and event venues, and suspended prep sports and extracurricular activities. Burgum directed all local, county and state law enforcement to enforce his executive order.

Bismarck Police Chief Dave Draovitch said officers will respond to calls about violations, but won’t actively be looking for people or businesses that have not complied with the mandate. A citation would be the last resort, Draovitch said.

“I understand that some do not agree with this executive order, and others are grateful for it,” Draovitch said, adding that people need “to respect others and their viewpoints.”

Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben has directed his deputies to “use good judgment and discretion” when dealing with violators, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“We try to resolve every situation but at some point enforcement may become necessary,” Leben said.

Mandan Deputy Chief Lori Flaten said if the department receives a complaint about noncompliance “we’re just basically educating people on the order.”

“We’re not going to go out hunting people,” Flaten said. “I don’t think that’s the intent of this, either. The intent is to get people more aware.”

North Dakota health officials on Tuesday reported 304 hospitalizations due to COVID-19, down 28 from a daily record set Monday.

The state reported 26 new coronavirus-related deaths, increasing the total to 763 since the start of the pandemic. The death count is the eighth highest per capita in the nation, at nearly 100 deaths per 100,000 people.

North Dakota continued to rank first in the country for new cases per capita in the last two weeks. One in every 81 people in the state tested positive in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

The latest count of available staffed hospital beds in the state showed only 11 in intensive care units and 181 in inpatient rooms.