A mobile COVID-19 testing initiative launched across North Dakota this month, resulting in drive thru testing efforts appearing in communities across the state. In partnership with the State of North Dakota, medical officials and leaders in Stark County and the city of Dickinson conducted a COVID-19 test for residents on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at the West River Community Center grounds in Dickinson.

“The City was responsible for selecting the testing site and developing the traffic flow plan. The City then cooperated with Stark County Emergency Management, Stark County Sheriff, and Southwest Health Unit to finalize all details. During the testing, Police Department staff worked traffic control and the Fire Department assisted in the information gathering during testing,” Joe Gaa, city administrator for Dickinson, said. “The turnout was great. We will have close to 1100 tests between the two days.”

Gaa addressed the importance of the event, calling it the key to understanding the virus.

“The key to understanding and combating the virus now and in the future is gaining as much information as we can,” he said. “Increased testing is an important component. The uncertainty of this pandemic is very stressful. Those that are tested can have a stronger sense that will help them make adjustments to stay healthy.”

The city has maintained consensus efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to public safety and Gaa outlined the process for decisions made to this point and moving forward.

“The City's key strategy to virus response was to be consistent with the Governor's Executive Orders,” he said. “We also added security measures and cleaning protocol within all city operations and buildings.”

Knowing that the likelihood of a spike in positive cases coming from with extensive testing this week could cause fear in the public, Gaa said it was an important and necessary “evil.”

“Seeing more cases is a concern, but it may be a necessary evil. Again, the more information we have, the better prepared we can be to move forward,” he said. “The information we gain today will help individuals, businesses and governmental entities in re-opening and hopefully making sound decisions to prevent further infection.”

The testing in Dickinson coincided with Gov. Doug Burgum’s announcement that he will lift restrictions placed on businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, while implementing new guidelines and standard operating procedures for businesses as they resume or continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are well-positioned for a North Dakota Smart Restart,” Burgum said. “We would not be in this position if not for the great people of North Dakota finding a way to practice hygiene and social distancing and the work of the fantastic Team ND members.”

The business restrictions under Executive Order 2020-06.3 are set to expire Thursday, April 30. The order requires the closure of recreational facilities, health clubs and athletic facilities; theaters, including movie theaters and music/entertainment venues; bars and restaurants except for take-out, delivery, curbside and drive-through; licensed cosmetologists, including salons and barber shops; and personal care services including tattoo parlors, tanning and massage facilities.

According to documents issued during the testing to participants, people tested should remain at home, not attend work, refrain from spending time in public areas or traveling.

“Activities outside the home should be limited and you should practice social distancing,” the document read. “Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding public places, mass gatherings, and maintaining distance from others when possible.”

Results are expected to be returned from labs within 72 hours, though a backlog of tests could prevent results from being released for upwards of 96 hours.