BISMARCK — North Dakotans will now be legally required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning from Minnesota, unless they work in an "essential" field.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Minnesota on Monday, April 6, to a growing list of states with widespread community transmission of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. The move means a quarantine order issued by the North Dakota Department of Health now applies to travelers returning to the state from Minnesota, spokeswoman Nicole Peske confirmed.

State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte ordered Saturday, March 28, that travelers returning from the then-shorter list of states who did not quarantine could face Class B misdemeanor charges, which may result in a $1,500 fine, 30 days in prison or both.

However, the department significantly weakened the order a day after it was issued by exempting workers in a broad list of about 20 essential sectors, including health care, agriculture, energy and "commercial facilities." The exemptions mean most people with jobs are allowed to continue working — even if their daily commute involves crossing into Minnesota, Peske said.

Notably, the order still applies to children, retirees and people who don't work or recently lost their jobs.

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Gov. Doug Burgum and Tufte said Tuesday afternoon an amendment to the quarantine order could be forthcoming to ensure that North Dakota and Minnesota residents could move more freely across the border to receive health care.

"How health care is delivered regionally sometimes doesn't match up with our borders, so we've got to make sure we're flexible and nimble with these orders," Burgum said. "We'll take a look at amending (the quarantine order), so we're not creating a problem for our border metros."

More than a third of North Dakota's population lives in the six counties along the Minnesota border. Many residents of Fargo and Grand Forks, two of the state's three largest cities, regularly commute across the border.

There are now 37 states on the CDC's list, including Wyoming, Florida, California and Arizona. Montana and South Dakota are not currently on the list.

Originally, the order applied to residents who had returned from the high-infection states in the previous two weeks, but this requirement was also removed shortly after it was announced. The order now only has bearing on people returning to North Dakota from the 37 states in the future.

The order can be enforced by local police, but Peske said she was unaware of any enforcement action taken since the order was issued.

In a separate move Monday, Burgum ordered that people who test positive for COVID-19 and anyone who lives with them must self-quarantine for no fewer than 14 days or face Class B misdemeanor charges.

Minnesota has 1,069 known cases of COVID-19 and 34 deaths, while North Dakota has 237 known cases and four deaths.

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