BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford today welcomed White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx back to North Dakota for an update on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing efforts to save lives and livelihoods.
Birx, who met with officials from across North Dakota on Aug. 29 in Fargo, held another roundtable discussion today with state, local and tribal leaders and representatives from the education, health care and business sectors at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence.
“We’re very honored to have Dr. Birx back in North Dakota. She’s been a great partner of our state since the very beginning. As one of the leaders and coordinators of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, she’s been a steady presence in all of the meetings with all the governors going on since last spring,” Burgum said a press conference after the meeting, noting that Birx has visited over three dozen states to study trends across the nation. “We’re grateful for her dedication.”
Birx said the significant community spread that’s driving up North Dakota’s COVID-19 case numbers, positivity rate, hospitalizations and fatalities “is a reflection of what we see happening in states as the weather cools” and outdoor activities move to the heated indoors, similar to how cases in the South increased last summer when hot weather drove people into the air-conditioned indoors.
North Dakota is doing a “superb” job of testing and finding COVID-19 cases, Birx said.
“But there’s a whole other set of cases underneath those cases, of asymptomatic young people who are still getting together, or even 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds who I saw throughout Bismarck not wearing masks and not physically distancing yet being indoors,” she added.
Birx encouraged asymptomatic individuals under age 35 to get tested and isolate if they are positive, and she called for all North Dakotans to practice social distancing and wear a mask in public spaces or when gathering with others, even in small groups.
“It starts with the community, and the community deciding that it’s important for their children to be in school, the community deciding that it’s important not to infect the nursing home staff who are caring for their residents – for North Dakotans – every day,” she said.
Birx, Burgum and Sanford also met separately with tribal chairmen Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and Doug Yankton Sr. of the Spirit Lake Nation, to discuss their tribes’ respective challenges, efforts to fight the coronavirus and tribal-state collaboration in COVID-19 response. The chairmen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate were invited but unable to attend.