covid pandemic voices

John Phillips

Jen Knutson is a behavior health nurse working in Williston, and is in a position to see what’s happening on the front lines as far as mental health and COVID-19 goes.

“Right now the numbers of mental health patients are increasing due to COVID-19,” she writes. “It is really sad we have such little help here as far as providers. (I’m) thankful that Summit and Chatter have stepped up the need for providing more counseling to our patients.”

Knutson would like to see more awareness in the community when it comes to mental and behavioral health.

“I unfortunately do not get to read the local newspaper as much anymore as I would like to, so maybe it has covered this topic, but I get messaged several times a day, a week, a month — more than ever before — about how to get help. Just my food for thought.”

This is a great point, and Gov. Doug Burgum has made behavioral health a key topic in his daily briefings. The state also has a website where many of the resources have been collected together to help people at We will also look at doing more stories about local resources, and we appreciate your viewpoint and your story.

We also heard from John Phillips, whose wife is a teacher and an essential worker. He, himself was an oilfield worker before the pandemic, and has asthma, so he is in a high-risk category.

“We are making it through ok so far,” he writes. “I have been let go, so right now we are relying on one salary. An additional concern we have is that I have asthma, an underlying condition, which could make any infection worse.”

Phillips is concerned by the number of people he sees from day to day not following CDC guidance to socially distance and wear a mask.

“While we’d like to think that most people would want to stay as safe as possible and follow the medical recommendations, as well as the state and federal recommendations, it doesn’t seem like that is the case,” He said. “For a short while the idea of wearing masks in public seemed to be picking up steam. But since the beginning of May, it seems that less than 5 to 10 percent of customers at any given store have ben wearing them.”

Social distancing also seems to have dropped off, Phillips writes.

“I picked up food to go in early May at a restaurant and although there were signs encouraging social distancing, it was not being observed. No one except for staff had masks on, and there was no social distancing. On my most recent trip to a restaurant, neither staff nor patrons used masks.”

Phillips believes the health care system in Williams County could easily become overwhelmed if large numbers of people don’t observe social distancing and other guidelines for curtailing the spread of COVID-19.

“I know that due to our rural setting we have not seen a huge number of infections yet,” he said. “But that should not be interpreted to mean we are immune.”

The community has been fortunate with fewer infections — but that also means it’s nowhere near herd immunity.

“It takes 60 to 70 percent infection rate to get to herd immunity,” he said.

Following the guidelines remains important, he believes, to ensure health care capacity doesn’t become overwhelmed.

North Dakota doesn’t have many ventilators — 578 so far, only 13 of which are in Williston. There are just three in Tioga, and six in Watford City.

At a population of 762,062 ventilators, of which 20 percent are in vulnerable populations. That works out to about 1 ventilator for every 262 people. Surge plans for COVID-19 care in the West include the underlying assumption that seriously ill patients will likely have to be transported elsewhere.

Gov. Doug Burgum has urged the state to continue following social distancing guidelines, but how many people understand why, Phillips asks.

“I would be surprised if half the people asked could tell you why it’s important to flatten the infection curve,” he said. “The flatter curve allows an area to stay within the capacity of the local medical facilities. Exceeding the capacity results in triage-type medical service. That means someone looks at you and says you’re out of luck because no beds are available. With our population, it would not take much of a spike in infections to exceed capacity.”

The re-opening is thus going to require the cooperation of everyone to be successful, Phillips believes.

“The curse of this pandemic is the incubation time of around two weeks,” he said. “So the medical effect of the rally to get the economy restarted won’t be known until close to the end of the month.”

{span}Getting people to feel safe is a key element of successfully reopening{/span}

“I realize that some people may not feel the same way as I do about the danger of infection,” he said. “But I know that it’s going to take everybody participating in the economy safely for us to start digging ourselves out of this hole. So if you wear a mask, even if you don’t think it’s needed, and that helps somebody else feel safer, that’s a win. Right? Now that person might get out and shop more. They might go to restaurants more often. Isn’t that a good thing? A good thing for the economy?”

There are large numbers of vulnerable people in the general population, some of whom may not appear to be so at first glance.

“While they might not be in your family they are in somebody’s family,” he said. “Go the extra step and mask up. Be North Dakota nice, and look out for the other guy or gal.”

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