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Burgum clarifies rules for reopening restaurants as North Dakota COVID-19 cases pass 1,000

The state surpassed the 25,000-test mark on Wednesday, with more than 1,800 test results announced.

Gov. Doug Burgum speaks about coronavirus at press conference in the North Dakota Capitol on Wednesday, April 29. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has put some force behind guidelines for businesses looking to reopen later this week.

Burgum announced Monday, April 27, that restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, barbershops, nail salons, massage therapy clinics and tattoo parlors can reopen at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 1.

The businesses, which have been closed by mandate since last month, can welcome customers later this week if they follow Burgum’s first phase of “ND Smart Restart protocols," which the governor unveiled at a Tuesday press conference and included in an executive order Wednesday.

The reopening rules differ by field but all require employees to wear protective equipment and businesses must provide space between people and contactless payment options. Business owners could be hit with a $1,000 fine if local law enforcement catches them skirting the rules.

Burgum announced new rules for movie theaters Wednesday. The businesses can reopen Friday but will be limited to just 20% of normal theater capacity and must stagger movie show times to decrease congestion. The rules also dictate that theaters must provide disinfectant wipes for customers to clean off seats and armrests.


Reopening restaurants and bars must limit the number of patrons to half of normal capacity, move tables 6 feet apart from each other and keep dance floors and blackjack tables closed. Standing in bars is prohibited, tables will be limited to 10 patrons and staff must go to great lengths to clean surfaces.

Nail salons, barbershops and waxing studios must screen employees for signs of illness, increase the distance between work stations and offer hand sanitizer to customers. The rules dictate that employees must wear face masks, while patrons are encouraged to wear them when possible. There are similar requirements for massage therapy facilities and tattoo and piercing shops, which are also prohibited from taking walk-in appointments.

Fitness centers will have to limit participation in fitness classes, space equipment 6 feet apart and provide protective equipment to staff cleaning equipment and washing towels. Spin classes and other cardio-intensive classes are still prohibited due to the high rate of exhalation. Locker rooms also must be shut and no group sports with more than 10 participants will be allowed.

Left out of the reopening frenzy are large entertainment venues and arenas. Burgum said those businesses will continue to stay closed due to the greater risk of gathering in big crowds.

Schools will remain closed for now as the state's 175 districts continue to teach students via distance learning programs, Burgum said. Churches and other places of worship were never under mandate to close, but Burgum cautioned against hosting large gatherings.

Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health confirmed 42 new cases of COVID-19.


The total number of positive tests for the virus in the state is up to 1,033, but 433 people have recovered from the illness, including 28 announced Wednesday.

There are 28 residents hospitalized with the illness, up three from Tuesday. Nineteen North Dakotans, including 12 Cass County residents, have now succumbed to the illness, which has claimed more than 59,000 lives nationwide.

Twenty of the new cases Wednesday came from Cass County, which encompasses Fargo and West Fargo. North Dakota's most populous county now has 492 known cases — about 48% of the state's total.

Sixteen of the new cases were reported in Grand Forks County, which has seen the state's most intense flare-up at a wind turbine manufacturing plant in the last two weeks. A total of 145 workers at the Grand Forks LM Wind Power facility have tested positive for the illness, including 130 North Dakota residents and 15 Minnesota residents, according to a department spokeswoman. Grand Forks County now has 251 known cases of the illness, the second most in the state.

The department announced 1,813 test results Wednesday, marking the sixth straight day it has reported more than 1,000 test results.

The other six new cases Wednesday came from Burleigh, McKenzie, Stark and Stutsman counties. Stark County, which encompasses Dickinson, has the fourth most cases in the state with 46. Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown, has six known cases.

A total of 25,536 tests for the virus have been reported by the state, and 35 counties now have at least one known case of the illness. However, Burgum has previously said that the cases are reported based on patients' mailing addresses rather than their actual location in the state, so it is unknown where infected patients are isolating or seeking medical help.


Even with many of the state's restaurants, personal care businesses and gyms poised to reopen later this week, Burgum said great concern remains for the state's most vulnerable residents: people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions. He urged residents who fall in those categories to stay home for at least another two weeks after the closures end. Burgum noted Monday that he's not at all considering allowing visitation at nursing homes to resume.

The number of cases in residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities now sits at 130 and continues to climb. All but 24 of the cases in nursing homes have come in Fargo, including 27 at Villa Maria, 23 at Eventide, 16 at Rosewood on Broadway and 13 at Bethany on 42nd. Four nursing homes in Grand Forks have reported 11 total cases of the illness in the last two weeks, including Woodside Village Valley Senior Living with five cases and Valley Senior Living on Columbia with four. On Wednesday, Burgum said Wednesday that 12 of the 27 facilities with confirmed cases had only employees test positive for illness.

State Human Service director Chris Jones said his department has sheltered 35 homeless people who either tested positive for COVID-19 or required quarantine. Those who test positive at shelters are isolated from everyone else in the facility, Jones said.

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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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