In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a number of executive orders Thursday, March 19, including one that will close bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to on-site business.

As of Thursday evening, North Dakota has 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Most of those cases are in central North Dakota, with 11 cases in Burleigh County, four in Morton County, three in Ward County and one in Cass County. One individual has been hospitalized for COVID-19. At least two of the cases were spread via the community.

More than 670 people have been tested for COVID-19 with 654 of those tests negative, Burgum said. He said it’s expected that the state could process more than 500 tests in the next day. Tests have come in from more than 30 counties thus far.

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Burgum ordered that bars, breweries, cafes and restaurants close to on-sale and on-site business. The order also includes gyms, movie theaters and other venues. The order does not apply to hair or nail salons, Burgum said.

“We ask these business owners to find a way to continue to keep their businesses going and keep serving your customers,” Burgum said.

Restaurants and bars will be able to continue with delivery, takeout, drive-thru and pickup services. The order goes into effect at noon, Friday, March 20, and runs through at least April 6. Violation of the order by a bar or restaurant could result in a fine of up to $1,000.

Additionally, the state is implementing restrictions surrounding public access to state facilities, including the North Dakota State Capitol, which will be restricted effective immediately until Monday, April 6.

Burgum noted that although the public will be restricted from entering public buildings, government will continue working.

Burgum also signed an executive order suspending regulations related to licensing of health professionals. Health care workers -- including nurses, doctors, behavioral specialists and a number of other workers -- who are licensed in other states, including Minnesota and South Dakota, will be able to work in North Dakota.

K-12 schools

Meanwhile, North Dakota schools will stay closed indefinitely, as the number of positive cases of the coronavirus continues to climb in the state.

Public and private K-12 schools in North Dakota have been shuttered since the beginning of the week after Burgum announced Sunday that all schools in the state would be closed for five days, allowing leaders time to collect data and facts about the situation.

Burgum said he will be signing an executive order soon that will allow virtual learning to count toward instructional hours for schools across the state. State law currently has some restrictions regarding virtual learning; Burgum’s executive order will open up those restrictions and will give more flexibility to the districts.

Burgum is granting seven additional days' worth of waivers for instructional time. That will effectively shorten the school year to 163 days. The waivers will allow districts to pay workers through this time.

Burgum challenged districts to be innovative during this time.

“We cannot let this pandemic deprive our students of an education that prepares them to succeed in our rapidly evolving 21st century economy,” he said.

Burgum directed each district to come up with an "innovative education plan" that must be approved by the state for a district to start teaching again, remotely. Those plans are due to the state by Friday, March 27. If their plans are approved, schools would start teaching remotely on Wednesday, April 1.

Burgum said they’re leaving these decisions up to local leaders because they feel local districts know what’s best for their students.

If those plans are not received by March 27 or if they are not approved, schools may have to “roll the dice” to see if the pandemic improves and then they might have to continue classes into June. Schools have until June 30 to complete their year.

“Kids are learning from us right now," Burgum said. "We have an opportunity to teach one of the greatest lessons to all of our students and that’s to see their school districts stand up and figure out a way.”

North Dakota K-12 Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said she is working with education leaders in the state and in the federal government to get additional details about how special education students can continue to be served throughout this period of distance learning. Additionally, Baesler said the state recognizes that not every family in the state has access to high-speed internet. She said the state’s I.T. department is working with North Dakota Department of Instruction to provide local schools with the tools they need to work with their local internet providers to help with specific needs.

“It’s times like these that we are reminded that we can and should have the utmost confidence in our school teachers and leaders in this great state,” she said, noting that the state should continue to support educators as they create innovative ways to educate students.

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