Mahatma Ghandi once said the true measure of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Gov. Doug Burgum said that quote is illustrates why he has focused so much attention on protecting the residents of nursing home facilities, which is where the population most likely to die if they catch COVID-19 resides.
North Dakota has had 106 positive cases in the age group between 70 to 79, and 15 resulted in death. That is a 14 percent death rate, Burgum said, and it underscores how serious coronavirus could be if it were simply allowed to spread through society unchecked.
In the 80 and older age group, that percentage almost doubles. There were 186 cases in that age category, and 45 deaths, which is a 24 percent death rate.
Both of these are much higher than the death rate from the flu virus each year.
“If you go to other states or even neighboring states, these percentage rates for those who passed with COVID are even higher,” Burgum said. That’s why he believes anyone with a loved one in those age brackets probably wants to know a lot more about what the state is doing to protect that age group than perhaps other groups do.
Nearly 74 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been individuals in a long-term care facility, Burgum said.
“That is why since the very start of this, we here in North Dakota have been focusing on those who are most vulnerable,” Burgum said.
The state has also been working, the governor said, to stand up capabilities to safely allow long-term care facilities to begin scheduling visits between family members and loved ones. On Friday, he amended his April 6 order to allow some outdoor visits.
This action comes with a few caveats, Burgum said. All the visits should not only be outdoors, but the facilities should provide clean masks to be worn during the visit. Appropriate social distancing should also be maintained, and all the visits must be scheduled. That will ensure the capability to maintain proper spacing and a safe, outdoor location for the visit, which, Burgum added, should not be something like a parking lot.
These steps are not just for the protection of an individual’s loved one during a visit, but for all the other residents in the facility as well.
Burgum stressed that anyone who has reason to believe they have COVID-19, or who feels at all sick should not come for a visit in a nursing home.
“If you are sick, go get tested,” he said. “Please wait until you are better, and again, get tested to make sure you are negative before beginning a visit to see loved ones.”
Facilities will work with the state to develop outdoor visitation plans, Burgum said. That may take a little bit of time, he added, as he just signed the order Friday and many nursing homes may be hearing about it then for the first time.
The state is also working on plans for indoor visits. For that, the state will consider active case counts for the county in which the facility is located. A facility also may not have any active cases among residents.
Many counties, Burgum noted, already meet these gating criteria. Cass County, notably, however, does not.
Nonetheless, outdoor visits will still be strongly encouraged, even in Cass County, Burgum said.
Allowing visits there will present more risks for a vulnerable population, Burgum acknowledged, but he said the state needs to balance COVID-19 safety with the physical and mental health needs of its long-term care residents.
“We know how important that interaction is to mental and physical health,” Burgum said.
The state is continuing to think of ways it can mitigate risks for indoor visitation in nursing homes. Among ideas Burgum floated on Friday is offering COVID-19 tests prior to nursing home visits. Visit would then potentially be allowable within 24 hours of the negative test result.
Other testing ideas, Burgum said, might include testing on Sundays for COVID-19 surveillance work in faith-based communities, and testing events for bars and restaurants, which might be catering to a population that is more likely to carry COVID-19, but be asymptomatic.
On other matters, North Dakota is going to resume jury trials July 1. Jurors will be spaced appropriately, to maintain social distancing. Jury duty notices will thus be arriving soon in mail boxes. Those with underlying conditions may have the option to be excused from jury duty, but it will not be automatic, as some may wish to participate in this civic duty.
North Dakota reported five more deaths from Thursday due to coronavirus. These were a man in his 90s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s, a woman in her 70s, all from Cass County with underlying conditions, and a man in his 60s from Grand Forks with no known underlying health conditions.
There have been 71 deaths with COVID-19 listed as a cause since the state began its tracking.
There were 40 new COVID-19 cases out of 1,112 tests, and 33 recoveries. That puts the active case count up a little to 432. The daily positives rate was 1.5 percent, which is where it’s been the past couple of weeks.
Five more people were listed as hospitalized, bringing the total number hospitalized to 180, but there were two fewer listed as currently hospitalized, for a total of 30.
North Dakota has begun listing serological tests on its website as well.
The state has done 3,148 of these, of which 107 tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19.
The stats for these cannot be added to get to a total number of COVID cases, since individuals in the serology test may also have taken the PCR diagnostic test.