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North Dakota rep tests positive for COVID-19 — the same day lawmakers shed masks

Monday, March 15, was the first day lawmakers had the option to forgo wearing a mask or face shield on the Senate and House floors, and most members took advantage of the rule change.

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Members of the North Dakota House of Representatives opt against wearing masks or face shields during a floor session on Monday, March 15, 2021. The Legislature recently struck down a rule requiring masks or face shields to be worn on the chamber floors. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — A North Dakota lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19 several hours before most of his colleagues met in their chambers without masks or face shields for the first time since the legislative session began in January.

Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, confirmed to Forum News Service on Monday, March 15, that he tested positive for the illness earlier that morning "after experiencing what I thought was a mild cold over the weekend." Monson, a 28-year veteran of the Legislature and chairman of the House Appropriations' Education and Environment Division, tuned in electronically to the House's floor session Monday.

Senate and House leaders said they weren't aware of any other positive tests Monday. Grand Forks Sen. Ray Holmberg and Jamestown Sen. Terry Wanzek have recovered from the virus after announcing positive tests in December and January.

Monday was the first day lawmakers had the option to forgo wearing a mask or face shield on the Senate and House floors, and most members took advantage of the rule change.

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North Dakota Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock. Photo via North Dakota Legislature

Only about 30 lawmakers, including all 21 Democrats and a small minority of Republicans, donned masks during the floor sessions Monday, while the rest of their colleagues opted for a bare face.

Republican leaders backed the relaxing of the mask requirement because COVID-19 cases have significantly dropped in North Dakota and many lawmakers have been vaccinated against the virus.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee said the lack of mask-wearing was "certainly concerning," noting that face coverings have proven effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in North Dakota. The Fargo Democrat, who received his first dose of the vaccine last week, said he isn't very worried about catching the virus in the chamber.

Legislative leaders have the power to reinstitute the mask rule on lawmakers if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs, but House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said there is no defined number of positive tests that would prompt a restoration of the policy.

When social distancing is not possible, lawmakers still must wear masks or face shields in other common areas of the Capitol that fall under the Legislature's control. Mask rules will only apply in committee meetings if the chairperson mandates them.

The mask rule in the Capitol has been a point of contention for some lawmakers. In one highly publicized confrontation, Reps. Karla Rose Hanson and LaurieBeth Hager, both Fargo Democrats, asked now-expelled Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, to put on a mask while he waited for food. Simons answered with an expletive-laden response that leaders have denounced as inappropriate and unprofessional. The House removed Simons from his seat earlier this month over a series of sexual harassment allegations.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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