On Friday, Stark County’s active cases spiked to 379 active cases with a 12% rolling 14-day positivity rate. The North Dakota Department of Health announced three additional deaths with 101 new cases in the county confirmed Friday, with pandemic height levels that were more than Cass and Burleigh counties combined.
In an effort to keep the county from moving to “Orange,” which would result in having to return to March-level shutdowns and restrictions, officials at the city, county and state levels hosted joint discussions on how local decisions could help stabilize the number of cases.
"Yesterday, we had a joint meeting between city and county officials with state officials discussing the rapidly increased COVID-19 numbers in Stark County, and we had discussed some measures that we can do to help prevent the number of COVID cases increasing," Dustin Dassinger, Dickinson Police Department and Dickinson Executive Board member, said. “The whole goal of this is to prevent the threat level increasing to another category in Stark County, and basically in a sense, we're trying to do things to keep our business stores open, our schools open and our sports teams on the field."
The solution agreed upon by the executive board was to enact a 30-day moratorium on all events in Dickinson, for which a special permit would need to be granted by the city, in hopes this action would limit large gatherings known as “super spreaders.”
According to the moratorium, events that require permitting for alcohol sales outdoors, shutting down a street or securing city property are on pause until the numbers improve. Despite this action by city officials, private events that do not require city permitting are allowed to continue but are being encouraged to consider CDC guidelines. The executive board said that they are encouraging local private entities to avoid events that could act as “super spreaders” for the virus.
“What we have to do is reinforce personal responsibility in people to be cognizant of what they are doing in their off-time,” Scott Decker, Mayor of Dickinson, said. “Their interactions affect so many other people.”
In a move breaking with local, state and federal health guidelines, many local Dickinson events have taken to social media to announce plans to move forward despite the warnings. Many of the events are expected to attract large crowds and are being referred to as "super spreaders" by health officials.
A handful of local events have been canceled, though a much larger percentage have opted instead to move their events from public outdoor gatherings to inside private events — bucking local, state and federal recommendations that cite outdoor activities as being safer than enclosed indoor events for large gatherings.
According to the North Dakota Smart Restart Plan, while in a “yellow” level on the state's coronavirus alert system, events should have limited operations, with gatherings in facilities at or below 50% certificate of occupancy for that room — but no more than 250 people. Social distancing guidelines should be adhered to, which calls for patrons remaining 6 feet or more apart while wearing masks.
Gov. Doug Burgum decided against moving Stark County to “Orange” in his last press conference, despite the county meeting the criteria for such a move, instead saying that the county was in “high-yellow.” According to the Smart Restart Plan, there is no distinction for this non-listed category, essentially leaving the county guidelines in “yellow” or moderate risk.
Some entities have already begun planning how to tackle the potential for a move to “Orange” with the growing number of positive cases. Trinity Catholic Schools shared plans for their forthcoming annual Fall Gala.
“We have options, knowing that it’s a month out, that we are working through at this point. Obviously it’s a major fundraiser for us so it’s hard to close the door completely on having some sort of event, but we do have an option where we take the event virtual and not have anyone on site,” DeAnn Scheeler, director of Mission Advancement at Trinity Catholic Schools, said. “Our first option is to abide by the color-coded guidance that is out there right now, which allows for an event of 250 or 50% of the capacity of your facility, whichever is smaller. The gala is traditionally held in our gym, which seats 2,350 people. So 250 is the smaller of those two numbers, so if we are in the yellow code for our county that would be permissible at that point. Having said that, we have social distancing plans in place if we get to that point as our event typically draws 300 people.”
Other local event organizers who are moving forward with events declined to comment for this article, other than to say that they would continue with their events.