The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is distributing nearly 160,000 cloth masks to the state’s public and nonpublic schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler.

The state DPI is providing the masks for students and faculty in partnership with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, the state health department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The state’s allocation of masks is based on the number of students in low-income families. The masks are intended, first, to be provided to students who live in low-income households or are at higher risk.

Gov. Doug Burgum announced last week that, in schools, students and adults who have been in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 do not have to quarantine, if both the close contact and the infected person were wearing masks properly when they were in contact. This decision was expected to decrease the number of students who, as close contacts, were to be quarantined at home.

“Mask use among students, teachers, administrators and school support personnel not only promotes public health, it can reduce the number of quarantines necessary if there are close contacts with someone who is infected with the virus,” Baesler said in a news release.

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Shipments of large masks, for use by adults and students in grades 7-12, are being distributed beginning this week, Baesler said Tuesday, Oct. 6. Smaller masks, which are intended for students in grades kindergarten through grade 6, will be distributed once they arrive in North Dakota, she said.

The masks are being sent to public school districts, which will be responsible for sharing them with nonpublic schools in their communities.