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As COVID-19 cases climb in North Dakota, officials say statewide closures are a last resort

There are now 302 North Dakota residents known to be infected with the illness — a 36% increase from eight days ago. However, the figure is not even half of the state's pandemic-high number of active cases, which came on May 21, when 669 residents were infected.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Forum file photo

BISMARCK — Over the past week, North Dakota has seen its active COVID-19 cases creep upward, but officials are optimistic the state can avoid a renewed round of mandatory business closures.

There are now 302 North Dakota residents known to be infected with the illness — a 36% increase from eight days ago. However, the figure is not even half of the state's pandemic-high number of active cases, which came on May 21, when 669 residents were infected.

Put in a national perspective, the state's climbing cases are a blip on the radar. At least 35 U.S. states are enduring more severe spikes in new cases than North Dakota, according to the New York Times . Massive outbreaks of the virus have caused Texas, Arizona, California and Florida to reverse plans to reopen their economies, while several other states have pressed pause on their plans and required face masks to be worn in public.

Mike Nowaztki, a spokesman for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, said state officials are closely monitoring the flare-ups across the country to ensure that the wave doesn't reach geographically isolated North Dakota.

Burgum was one of the few governors that never issued a statewide stay-at-home order, but he did order bars, schools, barbershops and other businesses to close temporarily after the pandemic hit the state in March. Nowatzki said the governor is confident that step won't be necessary again now that the state has better awareness of its sufficient hospital capacity.


Instead of a statewide order, Nowatzki said Burgum would try to target specific areas or businesses if he were to order businesses to close or people to quarantine. That way, parts of the state unaffected by an outbreak could carry on while the hotspot is isolated, Nowatzki said.

Nowatzki added that officials in Burgum's administration have discussed but so far opted against issuing orders that would require travelers from hard-hit states to quarantine upon arrival in North Dakota. Former State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte issued a quarantine order in late March for travelers from states with high rates of community spread, but the order was later amended to apply only to international travelers entering the state.

Burgum has preached "personal responsibility" throughout the pandemic, and Nowatzki said mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing remain the keys to keeping COVID-19's rate of spread low in the state. Nowatzki said "complacency is a concern" at this point in the pandemic, but following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations is as necessary as ever.

Nowatzki noted that much of the onus to remain diligent lies with young adults. Half of the currently infected residents in North Dakota are between 20-39 years old, according to the state Department of Health. Young adults spreading the virus has heavily contributed to outbreaks in the South and Southwest.

Bismarck area infections on the rise

The state Department of Health on Tuesday, June 30, announced 38 new cases of COVID-19.

Thirteen of the new cases came from Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo. Of the 2,245 residents who once had the illness in the county, only 112 are known to be currently infected.

Ten of the new cases came from Morton County, while nine came from Burleigh County. The counties, which contain the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area, have a combined 91 known active cases.

The other six new cases Tuesday came from Benson, Mountrail, Pierce and Walsh counties.


The department says 79 North Dakotans have died from the illness, including 66 residents of Cass County. The department also notes that nine people not included in the official death count were presumed to have died from COVID-19 but did not test positive while they were alive.

Fifty-six of the deaths came in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, but outbreaks in the facilities have tapered off as health officials targeted them for testing. There are now only five active cases in long-term care facilities, and no nursing home has more than one case.

For most of the last three months, family members have only been permitted to visit those living in nursing homes in "end-of-life" situations, but the state expanded that definition Tuesday to include residents who are exhibiting signs of sharp psychosocial or medical decline.

However, Burgum announced at the beginning of the month all nursing homes in the state are allowed to open up for appointment-only outdoor visitation . More than half of the nursing homes in state can now allow visitation within their facilities after meeting the state's standards of having a limited number of active COVID-19 cases in the surrounding county and no new cases among residents of the facility.

The department announced just 1,709 test results Tuesday, but weekends usually produce lower testing figures. About 2.2% of tests for the illness came back positive.

Gov. Doug Burgum said the state has the capacity to perform 5,000 tests per day, and he has urged residents to seek testing whether they have symptoms or not. In the last two weeks, the state has begun offering free mass testing events in the state's biggest metro areas.

Reporter Adam Willis contributed to this report.


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Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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