At his daily COVID-19 briefing today, Governor Doug Burgum addressed public concerns that North Dakota isn't doing enough to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Since the first case was detected in Ward County on March 11, Burgum says he has taken steps as necessary. As it stands right now in North Dakota - schools are closed indefinitely, as well as onsite dining at bars and restaurants, gyms and movie theaters are closed, and public events and gatherings have been canceled. Salons and other elective personal care facilities have also closed, and these measures have been extended to April 20th. Burgum says he and state health officials are evaluating the situation day by day, but it's important to remember that North Dakota is not like other states that may have shelter in place orders.
"North Dakota's got a natural advantage for keeping physical distance because we are a low population state, and a large low population state. We might have a similar population to say, Vermont, but we have three to four times the geography where people are very spread out."
Burgum also announced a surveillance testing pilot program taking place in two small communities this weekend. He says this isn't happening anywhere else in the country. All residents of Slope County are invited to come to the Community Center in Amidon between 10am and 2pm MST on Saturday. Likewise, anyone with an address in the Gladstone, North Dakota fire district may come to the fire station on Saturday in Gladstone between 1pm and 4pm MST to get tested. Burgum says anyone, with or without symptoms, may get tested. He says this drive-in pilot program will be used to gather information and be fine tuned for larger populated areas.
"If it works here in these smaller populations, then we may be bringing it to larger metro areas as a way to help us be more focused. We're doing this because we have to develop the testing protocols and approaches that allow us after the peak to get people back into the workforce, and widespread testing is one of the things that is going to allow us to move forward."
Burgum says the tests are mouth swabs that will come back within 48 hours.