For today’s report, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with police executives from North Dakota and South Dakota, the two states with the country’s highest number of new cases per capita over the past week.

Source: New York Times



North Dakota has seen a recent increase in cases and deaths.

Source: New York Times

The state has increased its testing, and is currently conducting 7.5 tests daily per 1,000 people.

Source: COVID Tracking Project

The percentage of tests that come back positive has also been increasing, and is currently 7.4%.



South Dakota has also seen a recent increase in cases and deaths

Source: New York Times

The state is currently conducting 2.0 tests daily per 1,000 people.

Source: COVID Tracking Project

The percentage of tests that come back positive has been increasing, and is currently 23.3%


Fargo, ND Chief David Zibolski

Our public health department has determined that we have seen a large spike in cases.

I was just sworn in on Monday, and we had a commission meeting Monday night on this issue. Our commission had been debating whether or not to institute a mask mandate with an enforcement provision. That was part of the meeting Monday, because the governor has decided not to do a mask mandate at the state level.

We had folks on both sides of the coin. Some compared us to Minnesota, which has had a mask mandate for some time and their cases have also gone up.

Our meeting was mostly centered on the enforcement piece. One of the things I talked about is that, while we want to protect the public, it’s a precarious position to put law enforcement in to try to enforce otherwise lawful conduct. I think we’ve seen examples across the U.S. of these things resulting in some pretty bad situations for law enforcement, which is already in a pretty contentious position from a community trust and support perspective.

I advocated strongly for an educational approach and, if the commission felt that they needed to do a mandate, that they not have an enforcement piece to it. Obviously the argument on the other side is that without an enforcement piece, what does it mean? But I think you either don’t do it, or you turn it over to public health to try to enforce it in that fashion.

Our department has had a number of people out on quarantine. We’ve had a couple folks who have contracted it, recovered, and are back to work. We’re following CDC guidelines in terms of appropriate quarantine and return-to-work practices. We wear masks when we are unable to socially distance.

Our restaurants and businesses are open. They encourage distancing and mask-wearing, but obviously when you’re eating or drinking, you’re not wearing a mask. In my observations, I think there’s pretty good compliance with distancing and mask-wearing by the public. Of course there’s a large segment of society that wouldn’t wear a mask even if there was a forfeiture/fine provision to the mandate.

There’s a program called Mask Up North Dakota that strongly encourages people to wear masks and social distance. We’ve pushed that out on social media and through our website. I think that’s a better way to approach it than through an enforcement mechanism.

Chuck Wexler: What’s driving this increase?

Chief Zibolski: I think it has to do with the fact that schools and colleges are back in session. School is in session, colleges have had some games, and there are just more people out.

The (North Dakota State University) Bison had a game this past weekend. The university limited the attendance due to the increase in the COVID numbers. I think they were going to initially allow about 8,000 fans into the Fargodome, which seats many more than that. They ended up reducing it to about 3,500. The university seems to be handling that in a pretty responsible manner.

We’re also doing more testing. In North Dakota, specifically, they have done a lot of testing, and a large percentage of the population has been tested. There are a lot of people who are asymptomatic or don’t have many symptoms and are testing positive.

Wexler: Are the classes in person?

Chief Zibolski:  Yes, North Dakota State University has in-person sessions, and they’re practicing distancing and mask wearing. The Fargo public schools are using a hybrid model right now. Some of the adjacent suburbs are in-person.

We have several colleges in the area, as well as across the river in Morehead, Minnesota, so those folks are out. And businesses and restaurants are in operation.


Sioux Falls, SD Captain Jon Lohr

We have started to see a bit of an upward swing, and in response to that we have started to make some changes within our department in the last week. We’ve mandated mask use within our building, especially if you can’t socially distance. We’ve also mandated it any time that any of our officers have public contact.

Our mayor’s office keeps a close eye on the hospitalization rate.

We’ve had some infections in our department. We’re doing rapid testing and getting those results very quickly. People are being quarantined and contact-traced, but we’re also able to turn around and get officers back on the street very quickly. So I feel like we’re doing a good job of adapting to it, and learning a lot, just like everybody else.

Wexler:  Is this your first or second wave?

Captain Lohr: We saw a significant increase back around April and May, when one of our meatpacking plants had a surge of over 1,000 cases in a week or two. That really started to move the needle for us. So I would look at this as being a second phase for us. And we’ve used what we learned from the first one.

Wexler:  What do you think caused this recent increase?

Captain Lohr:  We think K-12 schools and universities going back in person is a factor. A couple universities have seen a pretty hard spike in numbers, but they didn’t completely shut down, weathered the storm, and they’ve started to see numbers level off or drop. But it seems like the start of school did drive things up a bit for us.

Wexler:  Is there anything else your department or city has changed in response to the recent increase?

Captain Lohr:  We’ve tried to stay ahead of things. When we see something coming, we plan quickly. And we use strong messaging to get the information out and stay transparent with our workforce. We feel that’s been fairly successful for us in the police department so far.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.