ND governor makes emotional plea to avoid divide over face masks

Posted at 10:45 AM, May 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-24 12:46:57-04

(CNN) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum became emotional Friday as he pleaded with residents not to divide themselves over mask wearing amid the coronavirus pandemic or shame those who choose to wear masks, but to instead be empathetic.

"I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they're creating a divide -- either it's ideological or political or something -- around mask versus no mask," Burgum, a Republican, said during a news conference Friday in Bismarck. "This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line."

He urged people to "try to dial up your empathy and your understanding."

"If someone is wearing a mask, they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support," he said as his voice began to waver. "They might be doing it because they've got a 5-year-old child who's been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have Covid and they're fighting."

Burgum argued that if somebody wants to wear a mask, there should be no shaming.

"You should look at them and say that person's wearing a mask because for them, there's additional risk in their life," he added.

North Dakota does not currently require people to wear masks in public. The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended the wearing of masks while in public along with social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But some states and localities have made face masks a requirement for their residents leading to increased tension , even resulting in some violent confrontations.

Some Americans believe adhering to the rules infringes on their civil liberties, while others find it uncomfortable and hard to breathe through a mask.

Wearing a mask, however, could prevent seemingly healthy people from infecting others with coronavirus if they're asymptomatic.

"We're all in this together and there's only one battle we're fighting and that's a battle of the virus," Burgum said Friday.

Since January, Covid-19 has killed over 96,000 Americans and infected more than 1.6 million people in the US, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. In North Dakota, health authorities have identified over 2,000 cases of Covid-19 and 52 deaths due to the virus.

CNN's Chris Boyette, Kevin Bohn and Scottie Andrew contributed to this report.