BISMARCK — Leaders of the Spirit Lake Tribe have mandated the wearing of facemasks in public and instituted a curfew as a COVID-19 outbreak spreads through the tribe's reservation in northeastern North Dakota.
Tribal Chairman Douglas Yankton Sr. issued the mask order last week, citing rising cases within the tribe and the need to protect older residents and those with underlying health conditions from the fast-spreading illness.
Benson County, which encompasses most of the tribe's reservation, has confirmed more than 60 new cases in the last two weeks, and 42 residents are still known to be infected. Benson now has the seventh most active cases of any county in the state despite having a population of only about 7,000. Tribal and local health officials believe most of the cases in the county have come on the reservation.
Earlier this week, Yankton announced a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for all 4,000 residents of the reservation and a stay-at-home order for those who have tested positive for the virus and their close contacts. Yankton said in the Facebook video announcement he was among the tribal members who had been instructed to self-quarantine by health officials.
"This virus is serious and can be deadly, thus mandatory steps must be taken for the best interest of our tribe," Yankton said. "We all have to do our part."
Health officials hope to learn more about the reservation's outbreak through a mass testing event slated for Friday, July 31, at Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said he is not in favor of mandating mask-wearing statewide, noting that any order would be hard to enforce and may be an overreach by state government. Burgum's Democratic-NPL opponent, Shelley Lenz, says he should have issued a mandatory mask order weeks ago when infections began increasing. Active cases have nearly quadrupled in the state over the last month.