burgum Covid update

Gov. Doug Burgum explains the ins and outs of North Dakota's coronavirus data. 

Williams County was one of two the governor highlighted on Monday during his weekly coronavirus update for having a positive test rate approaching or exceeding 10 percent.

Williams County now has 171 active cases and a positivity rate of 9.6 percent, Burgum said. The other county the governor highlighted was Stark County, which has 249 active cases and a positivity rate of 10.6.

Burgum did not change the risk level of either county but said the two counties, which were moved to yellow, or moderate, risk level 10 days ago, are at the top of his list of counties to watch.

“We are going to strongly encourage those counties and the cities within them, and we will be reaching out to each of them in the days ahead here to discuss their level of local coordination,” Burgum said.

That discussion will include whether the counties and cities should set up a task force, and if they do that, whether they would want any state resources to help them with that.

Burgum said the state has 332 national guardsmen helping with the pandemic, and that they “stand ready” to help.

“Any county with triple digit actives should be thinking about whether they need a higher level of coordination, and again we will be reaching out to each of them.”

North Dakota reported 2,049 new cases of coronavirus in the last week out of 39,125 tests, bringing its positivity rate to 5.2 percent, which Burgum noted is how the CDC tracks daily positivity rates.

“We have always been in line with that,” Burgum said.

North Dakota has so far done 546,000 tests, a number of which are serial tests for individuals like health care workers for congregate living facilities.

Volunteer sites that are tracking COVID-19 positivity rates, however, have not been counting all these serial tests, which led to reports that the state was as much as four times higher than reality, Burgum said.

Burgum pointed out that if you count positives from the serial tests in the numerator but don’t include the negative results in the denominator, that will of course skew the numbers to higher rates. He also described it as math that won’t let you ever escape third or fourth grade.

North Dakota is also a small state, but is doing the second most tests per capita in the nation. That means, all things being equal, it will report more cases than states where testing is not as robust. Testing per capita has to be considered when looking at positive cases per capita in order to make apples to apples comparisons.

To fix the situation, the state has added a category called “test encounters” that will sync up better with the COVID tracking project. Test encounters won’t count cases where an individual had two tests in one day, such as where someone had a rapid test then a PCR test to confirm a positive.

“We have not taken anything away, because we are committed to transparency as well as being data driven,” Burgum added. “We are the only state that is reporting all three metrics. One is encounters, one is total tests and one is unique individuals.”

These changes are already resulting in more accurate reporting for North Dakota’s rates by sites like the COVID Tracking Project, Burgum said, and he has a task force working with others on the problem, to ensure accurate information is being reported out.

Recent reports over the weekend highlighting North Dakota as having the most new cases per capita in the nation are not taking into account how low the state’s cases have been, Burgum added, nor that the state is doing four to five times the testing per capita of other states.

“In the case of us with North Dakota representing one-third of 1 percent of the population of our country, the few cases we have here in North Dakota have been used I think to try to skew a national story, which the national story is really that the number of new cases has dropped by over 25,000 cases per day in the last few months, so let’s keep our eye on that.”

Burgum pointed out that when New York dropped to 20 percent it was viewed as a victory, and that by 10 percent they were thinking of re-opening. North Dakota’s 5 percent is well below that, and Burgum said his goal is to get the state back under that threshold and never get to over 10 percent.

“We’ve done such a good job in North Dakota of having low rates all summer,” Burgum said.

While the trendline isn’t going in the right direction, Burgum said citizens should still feel good about their efforts, which has kept hospitalizations for COVID-19 low throughout the pandemic. Hospitalizations were reported at 65 on Monday.

Vigilance with COVID etiquette has to continue, Burgum added, if people want to keep businesses and schools rolling, particularly as the state moves soon into flu season. CDC data suggest individuals who have a co-infection of both flu and coronavirus suffer worse outcomes than just having one or the other alone.

Burgum continued to call for individuals to voluntarily wear a mask, noting that most of the Big Box stores now require it. The requirement has not hurt their bottom lines, Burgum said.

The governor continued to say he would not make it a mandate, however, despite his support in the past for a seatbelt mandate in the state. Burgum said the science on seatbelt use is more clear cut, and that police officers have to come up on violent accidents, while mask wearing is about the community helping each other during a pandemic.

He added that he believes a mandate would just cause more people to rebel, and would not necessarily result in more compliance with the CDC-recommended coronavirus precaution.

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