SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation.

North Dakota and South Dakota have led the country in new cases per capita over the last two weeks, with 470.2 new cases per 100,000 people and 408.1 new cases, respectively. That's according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

South Dakota is among the nation's highest in positivity rates for coronavirus tests in the last week at 17%, according to the COVID Tracking Project. North Dakota’s stands at 5.8%.

Infections were likely spurred by schools and universities reopening and mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

Health experts warn the infections must be contained before care systems are overwhelmed. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have resisted mask requirements.

South Dakota has reported 16,117 confirmed cases and 183 deaths; North Dakota has reported 14,684 confirmed cases and 167 deaths. Combined, the states have 1.6 million people.

The rise of the virus is fueling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic.

The argument over masks raged this week in Brookings, S.D., as the city council considered requiring face coverings in businesses. The city was forced to move its meeting to a local arena to accommodate intense interest, with many citizens speaking against it.

The mask requirement ultimately passed.

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