Amid rising COVID cases in Stark Co., residents urged to wear masks

Graph from the North Dakota Department of Health showing how people in the state are found to have contracted the virus. (Graph provided by NDDoH)

After cases of COVID-19 remained static for weeks in Stark County, they're beginning to rise again.

Sherry Adams, executive director for Southwestern District Health Unit, oversees testing events in the county.

"I think over the last couple of weeks, I know with the testing we're doing weekly, each testing has given us anywhere from six to 10 new cases. We know there’s more positives out there. That may not seem a lot, but that’s still a 3% positivity (rate)," Adams said.

To date, Stark County has tested 6,037 people; 126 were positive, giving the county an overall positivity rate of 2%. Of those people, 103 have recovered, and just three have died.

There's speculation throughout the nation that there has been an increase in cases because there's been an increase in testing. Adams said she doesn't believe this applies to Stark County or North Dakota.


"Right now, we’ve been running pretty much consistently for the last couple -- probably even six -- weeks about 4,000 to 5,000 tests a day. Right now, that’s what the lab’s capable of doing," she said.

Instead, she suspects it's a matter of people not socially distancing like they should.

"There’s more and more activities happening in bigger groups and bigger crowds coming together," Adams said. "It’s North Dakota in the summer. People are captive all winter and when summer comes, it’s just like, ‘Yeah, let’s all get out and do all these things together,’ not remembering … in some facet, that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Every time I see a big crowd … I get really nervous because … how many positives are going to be in that group, and what are going to be the long-term consequences? So, I truly believe that’s why we’re seeing more and more cases, because more and more people are not social distancing, they’re not masking."

Due to people gathering in big crowds, she said contract tracing is becoming more difficult and time consuming.

"In March and April, when we were more social distancing, if somebody was positive, they maybe only had two-three contacts because people were social distancing," Adams said. "Now, if somebody gets positive, they have 30-50 contacts. Again, that’s because all of these people are coming together. When you have 30-50 contacts per positive (person), you’re going to have more positive cases."

She said that the health unit looks at the science and that the science is clear -- wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of the virus.

"The science has proven over and over again that me wearing a mask is not necessarily to protect me, but it will protect that other person, and if that other person is wearing a mask, it absolutely cuts down the risk. The more people that mask, scientifically, there are less cases," Adams said.

She recognizes that the matter is controversial and that some people may have a hard time wearing one.


"There are absolutely people that are claustrophobic that do have a hard time wearing a mask … They may breathe faster and harder, and it may be actually harder for them to breathe through. Maybe there is a person that has a respiratory illness or disease … and for those individuals, it may be harder to wear a mask," Adams said.

To those people, she recommends they speak with their healthcare provider and try to socially distance.

Adams herself has asthma.

"I wear masks all day long practically, and I have not had any issues, nor did my oxygen level drop. I do think in part it can be an anxiety thing … I will tell you this, it’s much better to wear a mask, have a little trouble breathing per se, than to get COVID and have to be on a ventilator," she said.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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