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ND COVID-19: shifting from pandemic response to endemic response

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State health officials say the virus is much more predictable right now.

The state of North Dakota is shifting its COVID-19 response from a pandemic strategy to an endemic strategy.

Dr. Nizar Wehbi is North Dakota’s state health officer. He says an endemic occurs when a disease is still present within a community, but no large shifts in transmission patterns are occurring. After active cases in the state peaked at over 12,000 in mid-January with the Omicron surge, active cases have since plummeted to around 400 statewide. Wehbi says this trend, along with the adequate presence of therapies, vaccines and hospital capacity, contributes to the shift in response strategy. Hospitalization rates and deaths have also declined. Wehbi says the CDC and health departments agree that right now, the disease is more predictable.

"We are now looking at the number of hospitalizations because of COVID, or with COVID, and the availability of beds within the hospital system. This reflects the capacity of our system to accept and deal with severe levels of COVID."

Beginning March 18, updates to the state health department’s coronavirus dashboard will take place once a week on Fridays instead of daily. Director of Disease Control Kirby Kruger says the updates will keep people informed so they can make decisions. He also says this shift in response does not mean risk of contracting COVID-19 is completely gone.

"We have the at-home testing where people can understand their situation earlier, they can test earlier at the onset of symptoms. If they're at high risk, they can start working with their providers to get access to treatment. We have vaccines that are available that have been shown over and over again to significantly reduce serious infections. We have the testing, we have therapeutics, we have vaccines - and I think our ability to respond to the virus is better. But that virus is still there, it's still circulating. It still has the potential to mutate and cause new variants to emerge, so we still have to remain diligent."

The North Dakota National Guard will also be ending its mission March 17. The guard was active for 736 consecutive days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to administer tests and vaccines. The response is so far the longest activation in state history.

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