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North Dakota to allow more customers in bars and restaurants

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday that he plans to ease restrictions on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues, citing a decrease in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.

Food service establishments have for the last six weeks been operating at up to 50% of licensed capacity, not to exceed 150 people. Starting Friday, those businesses will be allowed to operate at 65% capacity, not to exceed 200 people. Banquet, ballroom and event venues, which have been limited to 25% capacity, will be able to start operating at 50%.

Other rules will remain in place, such as requiring at least 6 feet between individual parties and masks to be worn except when eating or drinking, and providing service to seated customers only.

Burgum’s announcement comes as North Dakota dropped another notch in the national rankings of coronavirus cases in relation to population, to 48th in the country based on data compiled Sunday by The COVID Tracking Project.

Project research shows there were about 396 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks. One in every 482 people in the state tested positive in the past week.

North Dakota had led the country in per capita cases for many weeks until a steady decline that started in mid-November. That also coincided with a two-thirds decline in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

State health officials on Monday reported 199 new cases after 3,321 tests were processed, a daily positivity rate of 6.75%. There have been 93,240 positive tests since the start of the pandemic.

Burgum said the state has an ample supply of rapid testing kits that has helped “screen out asymptomatic positives to break the chain of transmission” and slow the spread of the virus.