North Dakota governor on brink of tears as he decries ‘mask shaming’

In North Dakota on Friday, the Republican governor, Doug Burgum, decried a “senseless dividing line” between US citizens over whether masks should be worn in public during the coronavirus pandemic.

As he pleaded with citizens of his state to “try to dial up your empathy and your understanding”, Burgum was moved to the brink of tears.

Related: No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war

“We’re all in this together and there’s only one battle we’re fighting,” he said. “And that’s the battle of the virus.”

As Donald Trump encourages states to reopen their battered economies, federal authorities are recommending covering the face in public when social distancing is difficult, for example in grocery stores.

Related: Gov. Doug Burgum on Reopening: We Never Really Closed

Some states require residents to wear masks in public settings. North Dakota, where Burgum allowed reopening to start from 1 May, does not.

The president has notably refused to wear a mask in public, although he was photographed wearing one on a visit to a Ford plant in Michigan this week.

On Saturday, Secret Service officers who were with the president on a trip to a golf course were pictured wearing masks. Trump was not.

Some rightwing protesters have attracted publicity by refusing to wear masks, while some shopkeepers have reportedly sought to deny service to people wearing face coverings.

Speaking to reporters at the state capitol in Bismarck on Friday, Bergum said he “would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, that they’re creating a divide. Either it’s ideological or political or something around mask versus no mask.

“This is I would say a senseless dividing line and I would ask 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.”

As he continued, Burgum struggled not to break down in tears.

“They might be doing it because they’ve got a five-year-old who’s been going through cancer treatments,” he said.

“They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have Covid-19 and are fighting.

“So again, I would just love to see our state, as part of being ‘North Dakota smart’, also be ‘North Dakota kind’, ‘North Dakota empathetic’, ‘North Dakota understanding’, to do this thing. Because if somebody wants to wear a mask, there should be no mask shaming.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, by Saturday North Dakota had recorded 2,317 coronavirus cases and 52 deaths.