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Montana and North Dakota are listed as the No. 1 and 2 most open for business states in the nation.

North Dakota has not only successfully fought its way to the top of the pack when it comes to the number of coronavirus tests it can do in a day, it is also now tracking as the No. 2 most open for business state in the nation, according to Zippia. It’s just behind neighboring Montana, which the online career site listed as No. 1.

Zippia looked at several key data points to develop its list, among them the date when states announced the end of stay-home orders, business capacity, and the number of coronavirus tests per active cases.

More tests per positive cases indicates more testing capacity, which suggests states are more capable of opening things up.

Montana let its stay-home orders expire April 26. Its bars, breweries, restaurants, houses of worship, retail stores, salons and the like have been operating at 50 percent capacity since then. A second phase will be coming soon, to reopen gyms, museums, movie theaters, and the like.

Montana has reported 461 cases of COVID-19 out of 23,035 tests.

North Dakota, meanwhile, never issued a stay-home order. It did place restrictions on certain high-contact businesses. Those were loosened May 1, amid testing data that showed a declining rate of positives per COVID-19 tests.

It has conducted 65,711 tests so far, of which 1,931 have been positive. That’s a 2.9 percent rate of positives.

Widespread testing and robust contact tracing have been repeatedly highlighted by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum as key to safely reopening the state’s economy.

To build its capabilities, the state has purchased enough equipment to stand up roughly 4,000 COVID-19 tests per day. These will be used to actively seek out new, potentially asymptomatic, cases of the virus, as well as to zero in on hotspot areas.

Meanwhile a small army of contact tracers — more than 120 trained so far — is ready to rapidly identify all the close contacts of new cases. North Dakota will use this system to quickly identify new cases and provide targeted isolation and quarantine orders where they are most needed, rather than being forced to broadly shutting down whole sectors of its economy.

North Dakota has also developed protocols to try and protect vulnerable populations living in congregate housing, in particular its nursing homes. Individuals age 65 and older or individuals with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung conditions like asthma are more vulnerable to fatal outcomes from COVID-19.

Surveillance testing of residents and workers in the state’s 200-plus nursing homes is nearly complete. Locally, that effort identified two asymptomatic cases at Bethel Lutheran Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Bethel was an early adopter when it comes to wearing masks and the center’s administrator Tammra Peterson believes the masks helped stopped the spread of coronavirus throughout the facility.

Not only have staff members been wearing surgical masks and more recently face shields, too, but residents who can tolerate it have been wearing cloth masks as well. The masks help block microdroplets that carry virus into the air, and are a primary route of exposure.

North Dakota is also pursuing serology testing capacity for a rapid test that could detect antibodies to coronavirus in 15 minutes or less. This might give the state a picture of its potential for herd immunity, assuming that coronavirus behaves similar to diseases like influenza with regard to immunity development.

North Dakota on Monday, May 18, reported 31 new cases of coronavirus, 26 of which were in Cass County. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 1,931. So far, 1,219 have recovered, leaving 712 active cases.

Three more people have been hospitalized with the disease, which brings the total number of hospitalizations to 133. Of these, 32 are currently hospitalized, which is a little more than 1 percent of the state’s existing COVID-19 capacity, and less than 1 percent of its surge capacity.

One more person died, a woman in her 90s from Ramsey County with underlying health conditions, bringing total deaths to 44.

COVID-19 insurance coverage clarified

In other recent COVID-19 developments, North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread released guidelines for coverage of COVID-19 tests, building on a previous bulletin that asked health carriers and travel insurers to identify and remove barriers to testing and treatment for coronavirus.

There are so far three types of COVID-19 tests. Polymerase Chain Reaction, which looks for DNA from the virus in a patient, Antigen tests that look for a unique part of COVID-19 such as proteins from COVID-19 spikes, and antibody or serology tests, that look for the presence of antibodies in a patient’s immune system that may fight off COVID-19.

Carriers are expected to cover PCR and antigen tests that are designed to detect COVID-19 when patient’s symptoms indicate the medical need for a test. In addition, carriers should cover antibody tests when such tests are medically necessary to support diagnosis or treatment of COVID19 or for treatment of another disease when the presence of antibodies might affect the outcome of treatment.

Public health surveillance testing and employee screening, however, are not deemed necessary from a medical care standpoint.

Those responsibilities have always rightfully remained with government or the employers seeking that screening,” Godfread said.

The bulletin is available in its entirety at insurance.nd.gov/bulletins. Questions may be directed to insurance@nd.gov or to 701-328-4995.

PEUC up and running

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is meanwhile up and running at North Dakota Job Service. This particular piece of the coronavirus aid passed by Congress provides a 13-week extension of benefits to those who have exhausted a regular, current claim.

The only place to file a PEUC claim is at jobsnd.com. Claimants should beware of scams. There is no fee to file for unemployment compensation. Job Services will not request any kind of payment to process your claim.

Letters have already been sent out for those who have submitted PEUC claims since April 4, which is when Job Service North Dakota first began accepting applications for the extension program. The letter is available by logging into UI ICE and checking the correspondence tab.

Those who qualify for PEUC aid will receive the same weekly benefit amount as their regular UI claims, plus the $600 FPUC benefit each week. The FPUC additional payment is available through July 25.

The system will allow claimants to certify all past weeks for which they were eligible under program rules.

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