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5 things to know today: Record surge, Mask mandate, Discussing options, School reopening, Sheep tunnel

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3D print of a SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—virus particle. The virus surface (blue) is covered with spike proteins (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells. National Institutes of Health

1. North Dakota sees record surge in new COVID-19 cases as Burgum pleads for mask-wearing

The North Dakota Department of Health on Wednesday, July 22, announced a single-day record of 160 new cases of COVID-19.

There are now 864 North Dakotans known to be infected with the virus, marking the highest point of the pandemic and one of the largest single-day jumps in active cases. The state is also seeing a record number of residents hospitalized with the illness at 52, up six from Tuesday.

Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference Wednesday the state is "not heading in the right direction" with active cases, hospitalization and testing positivity rates increasing. He said the rise in active cases is now outpacing the rise in testing capacity, a position that state hasn't found itself in at any point in the pandemic.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

2. Here's what you need to know about Minnesota's mask mandate

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Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, spoke to reporters at the Capitol complex about the state's mask mandate. John Autey / Pioneer Press

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, July 22, announced that Minnesota will adopt a statewide mask mandate beginning Saturday, July 25.

The requirement follows several other states and Minnesota cities that have required residents to don face coverings or masks when in public. And state health officials said the mandate could help quell the spread of COVID-19 after positivity rates for the illness crept up in recent weeks.

Before the mandate takes effect, here's what you need to know about the new rule.

Read more from The Forum's Dana Ferguson

3. Fargo city commission to discuss mask mandate options on the heels of Minnesota's requirement

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Signage requiring shoppers to wear masks to fight the spread COVID-19 is displayed outside of Vinyl Giant in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

So far, North Dakota communities have been reluctant to require masks in the battle against COVID-19, but that may soon change.

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About a dozen Minnesota cities were mandating masks be worn in public gathering places before Gov. Tim Walz issued an order instituting a mask requirement statewide on Wednesday, July 22.

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand is working to have discussion on the issue placed on the commission's meeting agenda for Monday.

Strand said the commission could approach the question from a number of angles, with one option being an all-encompassing rule requiring masks be worn in all indoor public settings.

Read more from The Forum's Dave Olson

4. Fargo reveals plans for reopening public schools this fall

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FPS Smart Restart input session screenshot taken Wednesday, July 22. Special to The Forum

If Fargo Public Schools were to open tomorrow, the risk level would be considered yellow, the most complicated stage on the risk odometer.

Elementary students would begin in a hybrid learning environment, while middle and high school students would go back to distance learning.

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“There is a chance that Fargo Public Schools will be opening in a hybrid level. We cannot provide desks at 6 feet apart and social distance,” Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said during the district’s first input session from parents on Wednesday, July 22.

“A lot of our students have fears around COVID and how it spreads,” Associate Superintendent Missy Eidsness said. “We would really need to reduce the number of students to maintain social distancing.”

Read more from The Forum's C.S. Hagen

5. How will western North Dakota's bighorn sheep cross the road? A highway tunnel

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An underpass is currently under construction near Watford City, N.D., to allow wildlife, especially bighorn sheep, to safely cross the busy U.S. Highway 85. Photo from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department / Special to The Forum

North Dakota is home to approximately 350 bighorn sheep, many of which are brazen and accustomed to incoming traffic on busy roadways. While their bravery is laudable, it also leads to deadly sheep-vehicle collisions.

Now, to preserve the small population of bighorn sheep that claim North Dakota as their home, the state is building an underpass near Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85. The approximately $3 million project is designed to allow bighorn sheep and other wildlife to safely cross.

As of Monday, July 20, approximately 61 bighorn sheep live in the rugged, grassy habitat near the Long X Bridge located south of Watford City, said Brett Wiedmann, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department big game biologist. Construction is currently underway, with the North Dakota Department of Transportation supervising the creation of the bridge, the wildlife crossing and the roadway's expansion from two to four lanes.

Read more from The Forum's Michelle Griffith

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