Gov. Doug Burgum has announced changes to risk levels for COVID-19 transmission in certain North Dakota counties.
Three counties – Pembina, Pierce and Rolette Counties – have now gone from blue, or “low risk,” to green, or the “new normal.” Billings, Foster, Mercer and Renviille Counties move from “new normal” to “low risk.” Cass, Dunn, Emmons, McKenzie, Richland, Sargent, Stutsman and Ward Counties go from “low risk” to “moderate risk.”
"This falls in a 'call to action,' particularly in those six counties with higher positivity rates," Burgum said at his weekly COVID-19 briefing.
In addition, Barnes, Benson, Burleigh, Morton, Stark and Williams Counties remain in the “moderate risk” category, but they are approaching “high risk.”
But Burgum also singled out Grand Forks and its mayor, Brandon Bochenski, who he called “courageous” for making the decision to close bars at 11 PM for several days, as coronavirus cases spiked.
"It's a small, simple step, but certainly symbolic, to help reduce the spread in a town known for the social activities associated with the University of North Dakota," Burgum said. "They have gone from 7.4 percent positivity on Sept. 8th, and they're down to 3.6 percent now. Just in a matter of weeks, they've driven this thing down through community participation and support."
Burgum said he has reached out to local leaders in some of the counties that have moved to higher risk levels, to see if they wanted to set up local COVID task forces, such as the ones in the Red River Valley and Burleigh-Morton.
Long Term Care concerns
The state Health Department is taking a number of steps to address a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in long term care facilities.
One concerns testing and test results.
"When test batches come in now from long term care, they're going to be moved to the head of the line," Burgum said. "Every effort is going to be made to return results from long-term care tests within 24 hours."
Burgum said the lab standard has been 48 hours.
"We think, again, this represents the highest area of urgency," Burgum said.
Burgum said the state will step up contact tracing with long-term care residents and health care workers. He said the Health Department also has a plan to use emergency medical technicians and others to conduct the swabs, and will use about 200 nurses from the Department’s Operations Center to provide staff coverage in those facilities.
Burgum said the state will soon receive the Abbott Binax/Now point of care testing devices to be used in long-term care facilities.
"These will provide us the ability to get a test result back in 15 minutes, at high accuracy," Burgum said. "These will be used when we have a resident we might be concerned about, a health care worker who has presented with symptoms, and as the tests become more available, they could help insure visitors entering facilities are negative at the moment they're entering."
And Burgum said the state continues to look at innovations that will help protect those most vulnerable to serious COVID-19 infections.
The interim state Health Officer has amended a "state health officer" order, to expand the quarantine order to all close contacts.
The original order referred only to household contacts.
The quarantine is 14 days.
"The Health Department has always recommended this," Burgum said. "This amended order brings it in line with CDC guidelines."
Essential workers are excluded from the order.