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The Virus Surges in North Dakota, Filling Hospitals and Testing Attitudes

Around Bismarck, there is a range of responses to the virus; but people are generally left to make their own choices about the potential risks. Some cafes are bursting with maskless patrons and workers. Other businesses have limited their capacities. Around half of the customers in Al’s Barber Shop, near one of the city’s hospitals, wear a mask, Travis Zenker, the owner, said.

All of it should be a personal choice, said Wanda Serr, owner of Little Cottage Cafe, a popular diner where workers do not wear masks.

“If you feel safe, go out and do what you do; if you don’t feel safe, it’s your right to stay home,” she said.

As cases have risen, some officials have tried to press for county-level mask requirements.

“I feel like I’m powerless,” said Renae Moch, public health director for Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health, who said she received insulting and threatening emails and Facebook messages for suggesting that the county set a mandate.

Miles from Bismarck, smaller communities have long turned to city hospitals to handle cases they do not have capacity to manage, but that is shifting.

“In the past two weeks, my ability to send people to Fargo or to Bismarck has been nonexistent,” Dr. Sarah Newton of Linton Hospital, a facility in Emmons County, told her City Council last week.

Emmons County is dealing with the state’s worst level of infections per capita, and Linton Hospital has been completely full. Dr. Newton described spending hours calling around the state for a patient who needed emergency heart surgery. A bed finally opened in Fargo.

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