Gov. Doug Burgum said at press conference Wednesday two Cass County men in their 50s, a Cass County woman in her 50s, a Ramsey County woman in her 70s and two Stark County women, one in her 30s and the other in her 60s. The Ramsey and Stark county cases were identified by the department as community transmission, while the sources of the other cases are still under investigation.
The two positive tests in Stark County, which contains Dickinson, are the western county’s first. Cass County now has the third most cases in the state with six.
Earlier in the day, the department also confirmed three new cases are in a Foster County man in 50s, and Ramsey County man in his 60s and a Morton County man in his 30s. It is the first case in rural Foster County, which lies in the east-central part of the state.
Eight patients have now been hospitalized with the illness, but the department’s website lists four people as having recovered from the illness after previously testing positive. The department has stopped listing the number of people it is monitoring after exposure to a person with the virus.
The state lab had processed tests from 50 of 53 counties as of Tuesday, and Burgum has previously noted that rural communities are not immune to the disease. There are now a combined five cases in Pierce, Dunn, Walsh and Foster counties, which have no cities of more than 5,000 people.
As the state continues to prepare for a higher number of cases and hospitalizations, Burgum invoked an analogy familiar to many residents. He said North Dakotans should think of the outbreak in terms of flood forecasts and sand-bagging. The state should take measures to mitigate the virus’ spread and work to increase the health care system’s capacity for a potential influx of new cases as though “the flood is coming in a couple of weeks.”
“We have every reason to believe that the numbers (of cases) are going to continue to climb, and we could be weeks away from seeing the peak here in North Dakota,” Burgum said. “That’s why we have to keep sand-bagging now — because on the day it shows up, it’s too late to build up all the sandbags.”
Burgum said the health department has more than 1,100 test kits ready to be distributed across the state and enough lab materials to run more than 3,000 tests.
A total of 1,955 people have been tested for the virus in North Dakota, and ten counties have at least one known case of the illness, with the bulk of the cases coming from Burleigh and Morton counties, which includes the Bismarck-Mandan area.
Grand Forks County has no known cases, but it’s not for lack of testing. State and private labs have evaluated at least 160 tests from the Grand Forks, the third most of any county in the state. More tests have been evaluated from Ward and Burleigh counties than anywhere else, however Cass County will likely see an uptick when 220 pending tests come back from a private lab in California.
A record-high number of people have applied for unemployment benefits from the state in the last week, Burgum said. In the last week, Job Service North Dakota received more than 11,700 claims for unemployment, compared to about 400 the previous week.
Job Service Director Bryan Klipfel said Wednesday most of the claims came from workers in the state’s oil and gas industry, which has been rocked by exceedingly lower crude oil prices. Klipfel mentioned the agency was starting to see more claims from workers in the hospitality sector, but he did not have an exact breakdown of the claims made by industry.
Burgum also announced a new executive order Wednesday that will extend workers’ compensation coverage to first responders and health care workers who contract COVID-19 on the job. The governor said an estimated 80,000 residents, including nursing home workers, paid and volunteer firefighters, police officers and EMTs, are eligible to receive 14 days of medical and wage replacement benefits through North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance if they catch the virus at work. Normal workers’ compensation does not cover viruses.
Every state now has at least 15 confirmed cases of the illness — New York State has been hit the hardest, with more than 30,000 known cases and more than 250 deaths. Minnesota has 287 known cases and one death, and South Dakota had announced 41 positive tests and one death as of Wednesday morning.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an order Wednesday requiring Minnesotans to stay in place beginning at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 27. Burgum said North Dakota would not follow suit because residents can take personal responsibility to prevent the virus’ spread. He mentioned that most parts of North Dakota don’t have the population density of Minnesota’s biggest cities, so a similar order wouldn’t be as effective in putting distance between people. The state will continue to monitor the spread of the disease to determine if more extreme measures are necessary, Burgum said.
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