North Dakota’s COVID-19 cases grew by three Monday, according to test results, but officials continue to believe the true amount is higher than that, and are working hard to ramp up bed space.
Public health officials renewed pleas for people to keep practicing social distancing to buy the health care sector more time to deal with the outbreak. Social distancing refers to the practice of keeping 6 feet between one’s self and others, because that is about as far as droplets from a sneeze can travel.
North Dakota now has 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Gov. Doug Burgum said it is likely the true number is higher. There are 270 pending tests sent to a national laboratory that are backlogged. Those results might not be available for another seven days. The tests were from the Cass County area.
Burgum added that medical activity tends to slow down on the weekend. That, too, could be suppressing the numbers reported for Monday’s total cases.
Guidelines to slow the spread of coronavirus remain the same, Burgum said, and are more important than ever.
“Each day we get is a chance to do more planning, and more work, and more preparations,” he said. “That makes each (extra) day a life-saving day.”
The state’s major hospitals have said they have between them about 500 beds for coronavirus patients. Burgum said Monday that a task force is working to raise that figure as quickly as possible.
There are unused wings that can come online fairly quickly, as well as facilities that used to be a hospital as little as two years ago that can quickly be returned to service.
“We will do that before setting up literally like what you might see in other places, a hospital out of a convention center,” Burgum said. “We have options here that would be superior and quicker than that.”
Among the steps for slowing the spread of coronavirus, people are being asked to stay home from work and self-isolate for 14 days if they have any symptoms, whether they think it is just a cold or actually coronavirus.
Anyone seeking testing for coronavirus is meanwhile asked to call a health care provider first. Testing is being prioritized to those with coronavirus-specific symptoms and contact history, or to those living or working in congregate settings like a nursing home. Contact tracing efforts are being ramped up, in light of the limited number of tests available.
Businesses have also been asked to allow as many workers as possible to work from home during the crisis to curtail the spread through workplaces, and restaurants and bars have been ordered not to allow onsite consumption and to use take-out or delivery models. Health clubs, movie theaters and the like have also been ordered to shut their doors.
Burgum said he is now working on new guidance for day care centers. These have remained open so that there are childcare options for those considered essential workers.
The state has 1,800 providers, with 44,000 children in the zero to pre-kindergarten age group. Adding children ages 6 to 12 to that would bring the total number of children who might need childcare to 132,000.
“To improve and protect the health of the children and people who work there, we will put together modified operating practices,” Burgum said. “That may include things like changing the ratio of childcare workers for children to help increase distancing among kids.”
Fewer kids per room will likely mean more childcare workers are required during the crisis, Burgum said, and that may give the state some responsibility to provide financial support to that sector.
The new guidelines for daycares are to be announced by next week.
On other matters, Burgum said unemployment claims continue to rise, and his office is working on measures to further speed the process of getting checks out to workers who need them.
North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, meanwhile, announced the cancellation of makeup testing for the ACT tests, the bulk of which were done March 3. Students who needed the makeup test will get a voucher to do the testing in June or July.
On Saturday, Burgum issued executive orders codifying previous guidance requiring schools to submit a distance learning plan by April 1. Schools will not get their final state aid payment until a plan is in place, and may have to consider extending their school year into June.