MOTT, N.D. — Hettinger County's Emergency Manager Tracy Kruger is not sure why her county has zero confirmed coronavirus cases.
It could be because much of the county is rural farmland, or that many people stocked up on supplies before the pandemic struck, or what Kruger said she believes is the most likely reason: They are simply blessed.
Five North Dakota counties currently have zero confirmed coronavirus cases: Golden Valley, Hettinger, Adams, Logan and Towner.
The state has confirmed more than 3,300 total positive coronavirus cases, but not one has occurred in the five counties, though hundreds are getting tested, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.
Some of these counties have one or multiple long-term care facilities, and the Dakota Women's Correctional and Rehabilitation Center is in Hettinger County. Elsewhere, such congregate living settings have been hit hard by the virus.
The majority of people in Hettinger County, Kruger said, are still practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public. When coronavirus cases began to spread rapidly nationwide in March, Kruger said many people did not need to venture to stores right away. Residents already had necessities on hand because of the county's rural location.
"For the most part, (people) are pretty self-sustaining. People already stock up on supplies," Kruger said. "That's the nature of our community."
Hettinger County has about 2,500 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Some of these zero-case counties are bordering others that have seen a large number of cases, but that does not necessarily mean the virus will spread across county borders, said Levi Schlosser, a respiratory and syndromic surveillance coordinator with the state health department.
"Smaller populations means that it is easier for a majority of people to practice good social distancing, good hand hygiene and take those precautions," Schlosser said. "The more people you get in the community, and the more people who don't follow those guidelines, the easier it is for the disease to spread."
There is a possibility residents in the five counties have the coronavirus and are not getting tested for it, he added.
In addition, in smaller communities, many of the residents know one another and band together to keep each other safe, like those in Towner County, said Emergency Manager Lori Beck.
Many community members in Towner County got together to distribute hand sanitizer, and a local church created a grocery-distributing group that delivers necessities to anyone in need, Beck said.
"We have a good group of people here, and everybody just took the precautions," she said. "A lot of people didn't go anywhere for quite awhile."
The coronavirus has hit Cass County, North Dakota's most populous county, the hardest, with more than 2,100 known cases as of Tuesday, June 23, of which about 90% of people who had the illness recovered.
If it was not for community members collectively taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, residents of the long-term care facility Good Samaritan Society in Mott would have contracted the disease, said Helen Wichman, the facility's administrator.
"I just want to thank the community for being so careful," Wichman said. "Without their people and if they (weren't) careful, then we would have been in trouble."
By taking the necessary precautions to contain the spread of COVID-19, North Dakota can continue to keep its confirmed case count low and in some counties, nonexistent, Schlosser said.
"We want to keep it that way," he said.