BISMARCK — North Dakota will no longer seek criminal charges or penalties against businesses that don’t follow operation guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Doug Burgum amended an executive order to remove all references of enforcement and fines for businesses impacted by social distancing and hygiene recommendations. Instead, businesses are “strongly encouraged to adopt and rigorously to follow” the guidelines,” Burgum said Friday, May 22, during a press conference in Bismarck.

“It’s been removed because of the great work of all of you in those businesses,” Burgum said.

The amendment comes the same day North Dakota announced that its single-day case total dipped below 100. The state Department of Health confirmed 90 cases of coronavirus on Thursday, May 21, according to numbers released Friday. That’s down from 133 from Wednesday, May 20.

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In total, the state has confirmed 2,317 cases.

One death also was reported in Thursday’s numbers, bringing North Dakota’s death toll to 52.

The order change does empower businesses to operate more freely, Burgum said, but it does not give them a license to “let her rip.” The state health department still has the authority to close businesses that pose a risk to public health, he said.

“If somebody decides they want to let her rip and there’s a large breakout that’s traced back to that facility,” the state will take action to protect the public, Burgum added

Burgum noted there is no requirement for residents to wear masks, but he also asked people not to shame those who do or do not wear masks. Most people do not wear masks to show support for a political party or candidate, Burgum said. Rather, they do it to protect the ones they love and other residents, he said.

“To those individuals, this is a matter of life and death,” he said, calling the argument about wearing a mask “a senseless dividing line."

He noted people wear helmets to prevent injuries. In an emotional plea, Burgum asked North Dakotans to not get caught up in the debate of wearing a mask like other parts of the country.

“Let’s just start with empathy and stop with the mask shaming,” he said.

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