Gov. Doug Burgum announced that the state’s mask mandate and business capacity limits would be lifted, with the orders expiring next week.
Due to the state’s declining COVID numbers, Burgum said that his office is allowing the State Health Officer’s statewide mask requirement be expire on Monday, Jan 18 at 8 a.m., and that an executive order limiting capacity for bars, restaurants and event venues would also be modified effective 8 a.m., changing business capacity limits and other ND Smart Restart protocols from requirements to guidelines or recommendations. Burgum said the statewide risk level will remain at moderate.
Burgum was joined by North Dakota Department of Health Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell and Dr. Joshua Ranum of West River Health Services in Hettinger to discuss the state’s COVID-19 numbers and vaccine distribution.
Burgum stated that the state’s numbers had been improving since mid-November, when additional measures were implemented. Since then, active cases have dropped by over 80 percent, from 10,224 to 1,675; hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have decreased by nearly 74 percent, and the state’s 14-day test positivity rate is down about one-fourth from its peak, at 4.13 percent today, its lowest percentage since late August. Burgum added that a Johns Hopkins University study showed North Dakota’s seven-day positivity rate as fourth-lowest rate in the nation, at 4.7 percent.
The governor said the state’s new three-pronged approach for handling COVID in North Dakota will be another tool in the battle to keep the state’s positive numbers down.
“Our case numbers and hospital capacity have improved dramatically in North Dakota over the past two months, and with three new tools we didn’t have last fall – vaccines, rapid tests and effective therapeutics – we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “However, this fight isn’t over, and we need all North Dakotans to continue to exercise personal responsibility, follow protocols and keep wearing masks where physical distancing isn’t possible. The day will come when we can take off our masks and throw them away with confidence, but only if we do what’s needed now to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe.”
Howell took to the podium after Burgum, sharing an update on the state’s vaccine distribution. Howell noted that out of 50 states, North Dakota ranks second in the percentage of received vaccine doses administered fourth in first doses administered per capita, with 52,433 doses administered as of Jan 14.
Burgum noted that cities and counties may continue to have mask requirements in place, and the state supports those locally enacted protocols.
“We still strongly support mask-wearing as part of the important work we need to do to contain this virus and to maintain the strong position that we are in,” he stated.
Guest speaker Dr. Joshua Ranum of West River Health Services in Hettinger stressed the importance of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to immediately ask their doctors if they’re a candidate for early treatment with monoclonal antibody therapies that have been shown to reduce mortality and the need for hospitalization. Ranum said that monoclonal antibody therapy has shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID from 10 percent to around 3.5 percent.
“While not a cure for COVID-19, these antibody infusions can shift the advantage back in favor of the patient,” Ranum said. “I believe the inclusion of monoclonal antibodies to our list of treatment options will be a turning point, along with vaccination, in our fight against COVID-19.”
Burgum ended the conference with a thanks to the state’s residents for their part in helping to reduce the state’s active cases.
“Thank you to all North Dakotans who’ve been doing a great job, that helped us be in this position today, which is really a strong position relative to the rest of the nation,” he said. “Let’s keep up the great work.”