Burgum decided last week not to move Cass up to the "yellow" designation despite the county meeting two of the main criteria for the higher risk level. The governor said he decided to move Cass up to yellow Wednesday because he wanted to wait a few weeks after the state overhauled the risk level system to make county-level judgments.
New cases and infection rates have risen sharply in the county over the last month. Cass County now has the second most active COVID-19 cases in North Dakota with 565 infections. Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, still leads the state in active cases.
The move to the yellow designation for Cass County does not trigger any legal mandates on businesses, but it changes the state's recommendations for restaurants and large gatherings. Bars and restaurants in the counties are advised to serve only up to 50% of normal capacity, while large venues are urged to hold no more than 250 people at 50% of normal capacity. Burgum added last week that the yellow-coded guidelines now include a recommendation for public-facing employees to wear masks. The new recommendations will go into effect on Friday morning.
Along with Cass, seven other counties are moving from the low to moderate risk level, including Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown, and Emmons County, which has the state's highest 14-day positivity rate.
Another six counties that are already in the yellow category are "moving toward high risk" because of spikes in COVID-19 cases. However, Burgum declined to actually move the counties, which include Burleigh and Stark, to the orange designation despite them meeting the criteria of high-risk counties.
North Dakota, which surpassed 3,000 active cases over the weekend, leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases per capita over the last week, according to the New York Times. The whole region is experiencing a surge in cases, with South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana and Minnesota all identified by the publication as states where infections are "high and staying high."
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