With the fewest number of deaths in the nation and a continued decline in active case counts, complacency wouldn’t be unexpected, Gov. Doug Burgum said Tuesday, June 16, but North Dakotans only have to look at what is happening in other states right now to realize that it is not yet time to relax COVID-19 etiquette.
Arkansas, for example, popped 731 new coronavirus cases in rural counties that hadn’t had much much coronavirus activity before.
One large outbreak traced back to a Tyson food plant and another to a corrections facility, which together account for about half of the new cases.
Arkansas is not alone, either. Ten states in all are now seeing exponential growth in COVID-19 cases in various counties, some of which previously didn’t have many cases.
Burgum said the development should underscore the continued need for North Dakota smarts and vigilance. That means continuing to follow CDC guidance to curtail the spread of a disease that poses disproportionate risk to those with underlying health conditions, and is about twice as contagious as the flu.
“You can have an area with very few cases, and then suddenly you have 731 new cases,” Burgum said. “That can happen anywhere.”
Worldwide, there have been 7.8 million COVID-19 cases with 432,000 deaths. The United States owns 2.2 million of those cases, and 119,000 of the deaths, and counting.
North Dakota has had just 74 deaths, far fewer per capita than many other locations, despite being one of the states that closed the least. Burgum attributed that to a data-driven, collaborative approach, and a focus on personal responsibility for every citizen to do the right thing.
“There are lots of people with lots of ideas and opinions and inputs, but we are working hard to stay between the ditches,” the governor said.
That’s something that will and must continue as the state continues to open up, Burgum suggested, so that North Dakota doesn’t follow in the footsteps of other states where new spikes are suddenly threatening both the economy and the vulnerable in a world that has neither vaccine nor proven COVID-19 prophylactics.
“While we are in really good shape and things are going great in North Dakota,” Burgum said. “We need to make sure that we continue to stay on guard as we continue to move forward and open up our economy.”
That means not only building up testing and contact tracing capability, but remaining curious, Burgum said.
“Curious about what more we can learn and what we can do different and better,” he said. “And we have to maintain our humility, because we need to understand that there are many things that we yet don’t know.”
North Dakota was fortunate, Burgum pointed out, that when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, most of its schools were out on spring break.
“We’ve never dealt with a pandemic when we had 140,000 students in school in North Dakota or 160,00 call that 120,000 in K12 and 40,000 in higher education,” he said.
That’s 20 percent of the state’s population in a congregate setting, all going back home to parents, some of whom may well have the underlying health conditions that would make them more susceptible to serious or even fatal outcomes from COVID-19.
Testing, Burgum said, is key to the state’s continued reopening and to reaching the blue or “normal” territory that everyone wants to see.
“It’s key to building consumer confidence,” Burgum said. “It’s key to getting students back into school buildings. It’s key to getting people comfortable with out-of-state students returning here to our universities in the fall. It’s the key to large events. It’s the key to athletic events. AAnd so again, until such time that there may be a vaccine, testing is going to be an important part of our road map.”
The state continues to make great strides on testing, Burgum added. It can now process up to 5,000 tests per day between its own lab and private partners.
But using that full capacity is proving challenging, particularly amid waning case counts. Social distancing measures and, perhaps, even summer, have kept new case numbers in the state on a steady decline.
North Dakota reported just 23 new COVID-19 cases from Monday, June 15, testing, Burgum said, out of 1,797 tests — a far lower number of tests than the state could have processed.
The daily positive rate was 1.3 percent. The state has overall done 135,691 tests, of which around 88,500 were unique individuals. It’s overall positive rate is 3.4 percent.
There were 37 recoveries, which drops active cases down to now 330 in the state. No new deaths were reported, and just 26 people are hospitalized.
Burgum said 18 of the 23 cases did come from Cass and Burleigh counties, which are the state’s two most populous areas. Burleigh’s case counts will be watched, to determine if a task force similar to one in Cass County is needed.
On the re-opening of nursing homes to visits, Burgum noted North Dakota is one of few states that has a plan for that, and said he is committed to North Dakota being the first to safely reopen for visits, and maybe, at some point, even hugs.
The state’s current, three-phase plan, however, would take about one month for facilities to move through, so Burgum is piloting an idea to use testing capacity to both speed indoor visits, and reduce their risk.
If the idea works, those wanting to visit a facility will be able to take a COVID-19 diagnostic test and, if it is negative, could visit their loved one within one week of a negative test result. That would make the risk of visits about the same as what residents face from nursing home workers, who are themselves also being tested once a week.
That idea will be tried first in Bismarck, and could be an additional route for nursing homes to reopen if successful.
Burgum signed a proclamation declaring June 23 Silver Lining Day in North Dakota, to recognize and thank the 16,000 people working in Long Term care.
Meanwhile, the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce is also setting up another business call to go over some changes to the Paycheck Protection program. The Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act has expanded who may qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, and it will now continue taking applications through June 30.
The session is is 9 a.m. June 18 through the Greater North Dakota Chamber, and non members may participate. Visit ndchamber.com for details.