North Dakota Governor Issues 'Data-Driven' Mask Mandate but Exempts Religious Services

In a video shared on Friday night, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced new state-wide requirements to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The new requirements state that people must wear masks in indoor businesses and in public spaces where social distancing isn't possible. Burgum provided an exemption for religious services, however, despite documented cases across the nation of church gatherings being responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks.

Before introducing the measures, Burgum, under pressure from hospitals straining to handle the increasing number of COVID patients, spoke about how the state has taken a "data-driven" approach to reducing the virus's spread. "Right now, the data demands a higher level of mitigation efforts to reverse these dangerous trends to slow the spread of the virus and to avoid the need for any economic shutdowns," he said.

As our COVID-19 situation changes, we must change with it. Tonight, we announced four measures designed to reduce the rampant spread of infections in our communities, protect our vulnerable, ensure hospital capacity and keep schools & the economy open.

— Gov. Doug Burgum (@DougBurgum) November 14, 2020

Burgum explained the specifics of the mask requirement and said it would last from Saturday to December 13. "The state health officer, with my full support, has issued an order requiring face coverings to be worn in all indoor businesses and public settings and outdoor public settings, where physical distancing isn't possible," he said.

The governor listed two "common-sense exceptions:" children under five years old and religious services. In the state health officer's order, there are 11 instances listed as to when an individual may temporarily remove a face mask, the last of which is the exemption for religious services. Other exemptions include when eating in a restaurant and when playing an organized sport.

The order states: "When an individual is participating in a religious service at a faith based organization, provided that physical distancing is maintained to the extent possible between persons who are not members of the same household."

As previously reported, some worship services have been connected to outbreaks of the virus. Last month, a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was reported as the source of 143 new COVID cases after a week of convocation events. In Maine, a pastor for Brooks Pentecostal Church apologized after 60 people contracted the virus following an in-person service.

The second measure Burgum listed was limiting bars and restaurants to 50 percent capacity and not allowing more than 150 patrons, as well as closing them between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. for in-person service. The third measure similarly limited banquet ballroom and event venues to 25 percent capacity, as well as requiring masks and distancing. In the fourth measure, Burgum announced that winter sports and extracurricular activities for students would be on hold from November 16 to December 14. He did remark that fall sports and other activities sponsored by the North Dakota High School Activities Association would continue through November, under the association's guidelines.

Contacts for the North Dakota Governor did not respond to Newsweek's emailed request for comment in time for publication.

Local residents attend a Roman Catholic Church mass on October 22 at the Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in New York City. North Dakota GOP Governor Doug Burgum said religious services were a "common sense" exception while announcing a new state-wide mask requirement Friday night. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty