BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum announced Monday, Jan. 4, that North Dakota is moving down a COVID-19 risk level, which will allow bars and restaurants in the state to serve more customers.
The state will shift from its high to moderate COVID-19 risk designation on Friday, Jan. 8, according to a news release. The move means restaurants and bars will be permitted to serve up to 65% of their normal occupancy starting at 8 a.m. on Friday.
Eating and drinking establishments had previously been limited to 50% capacity, though the restrictions have been lightly enforced in most parts of the state.
Dance floors must still remain closed, and service can only be provided to seated customers. Patrons must wear masks except when eating or drinking, and staff must wear masks at all times, according to the release.
Event venues will be allowed to serve up to 50% of normal occupancy, up from 25%.
Before Monday's announcement, the occupancy limits on bars, restaurants and event venues were due to expire.
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Burgum originally ordered the restrictions on certain public-facing businesses on Nov. 13 as the state struggled with a worst-in-the-nation COVID-19 outbreak. Active cases of the disease have dropped by more than 8,000 since then, and the state's hospitals have rebounded from the November crisis. A statewide mask mandate imposed on the same day as the capacity limits remains in effect until at least Jan. 18.
When Burgum extended the mask mandate and business restrictions on Dec. 9, he hinted that constraints on bars and restaurants could be softened if virus conditions improved. About two weeks later, the Republican governor lifted an overnight curfew on in-house service at the establishments that was part of his original November order.
Burgum noted that communities across the state should take advantage of available rapid COVID-19 tests, which he said could help break the chain of infection and further support the full reopening of bars and restaurants.
State health officials continue to monitor infection numbers for a post-holiday virus surge, and they worry cases may be going undetected because of a lull in demand for testing, according to the release. Residents are still strongly encouraged to wear masks in public, wash their hands thoroughly and keep their distance from those outside of their household.