Burgum accepts resignation of State Health Officer Dr. Paul Mariani

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota is once again without a State Health Officer.

Just a short while ago, Gov. Doug Burgum accepted the resignation of Dr. Paul Mariani.

Just last night, the Governor’s Office rescinded the quarantine order that Mariani issued just one day before then.

In a statement, Mariani said: “While the governor and I agreed on the urgent need to isolate positives and quarantine close contacts in accordance with CDC guidelines, and that the amended order’s penalty provision was overly punitive, the circumstances around the handling of the order made my position untenable.”

Mariani is the third person to resign from this post since the State of Emergency was declared.

With former Officers Mylynn Tufte and Dr. Andrew Stahl, the explanation for their resignations was a return for the private sector.

This time, it was a difference in philosophy.

“While Dr. Mariani’s tenure was short, we are grateful for his service and for jumping into the many complexities of this extremely challenging role – including connecting directly with parents, school superintendents, mayors and local public health officials – at a time when our state is facing rising and record COVID-19 cases. We are saddened to see him leave and appreciate his meaningful contributions. Paul is a man of high intelligence and integrity. We agreed that the amended close contact order’s penalty provisions – a misdemeanor as required by current state law – became a large and unforeseen distraction to our mission of slowing the spread of the coronavirus in our state,” Burgum said.

Since April, there has been a State Health Officer Order, similar to an Executive Order, that required anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 to quarantine for 14 days.

On Wednesday, that order was expanded to include anyone with close contact to someone who tested positive.

But just one day later, that expansion was rolled back.

Many across the state said they were confused by the quick change in policy.

Burgum’s Democratic opponent in the governor race, Shelley Lenz, said it’s showing a crisis in leadership.

“It’s just adding to the confusion. And so it tells me that he doesn’t have unity of command like he says. This has been a problem all the long, and I think he’s in a deep sense of denial about the depths of the crisis we’re in,” Lenz said.

But then there’s the question of why the Close Contact order was removed too quickly. Without giving specifics for why?

Interim State Health Officer Dr. Paul Mariani said in a statement, “While this order is being rescinded, we continue to stress the importance of quarantining and isolation to bend the curve back in the right direction in North Dakota.”

However, shortly after the order was given Wednesday night, Republican legislative leadership contacted Burgum’s Office, asking him to rescind the new orders. The next day, it was.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said that the orders went too far and were too restrictive, pointing to the Class B misdemeanor if they fail to comply.

When asked if Wardner has similar opinions toward the misdemeanor charges for people who test positive themselves, he said, “that’s a little different.”

In a statement, Burgum said, “From the beginning, our approach to this pandemic has emphasized personal responsibility and a light touch of government.”

This is not the first time Burgum has made a sudden change in policy.

On a Friday night last spring, he said schools would remain open and follow a school-by-school protocol. Just two days later, Burgum shut down schools for the rest of the year.

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