- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An education campaign aimed at persuading North Dakotans to wear masks and practice social distancing still has not begun more than a month after $1.8 million in federal coronavirus aid was approved for the effort.

The campaign had been set to start Monday, the same day North Dakota set a record for active COVID-19 cases statewide. Nicole Peske, a state Health Department spokeswoman, said three of the 10 private firms that submitted bids for education effort had equal proposals under the state’s scoring system, which has delayed the effort for at least another week.

“I don’t think anybody wants to move forward on this more than we do,” Peske said Tuesday. “We did have a rare three-way tie … every step of process is time consuming and there are time frames we legally have to follow.”

The North Dakota Emergency Commission, headed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, last month approved the funding was given to the state in the federal coronavirus stimulus package approved in March.

The state has set several records for active virus cases, including Monday’s health department update showing that 2,758 people were infected. An update Tuesday showed the active cases had dropped by 194.



The state on Tuesday also reported 235 new cases, including 109 in Burleigh and Morton counties, which have tallied more than 1,000 cases already this month. The state’s most populous county, Cass, had 27 new cases.

The update included two deaths, a Burleigh County man in his 80s and a Morton County man in his 80s. Both had underlying health conditions. The death toll now stands at 172.

Peske, the Health Department spokeswoman, would not name the finalists for the education effort, a component of which will encourage the wearing of masks to stop the spread of the virus.

Burgum has not issued a mask mandate, even though he has given emotional pleas supporting face coverings at press briefings. The governor promotes personal choice and has tried to encourage masks with a social media campaign.

Peske said she hopes putting money behind the effort may help.

“Public awareness and public education is one of the most important things we do,” she said.

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