BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today declared a state of emergency for North Dakota in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis and issued guidance to K-12 schools with Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler and State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte.
The governor’s executive order activates the State Emergency Operations Plan to assist local and tribal officials and directs all state agencies to provide resources and capabilities, including authorization to activate the North Dakota National Guard. President Trump, in declaring a national emergency this afternoon, urged every state to set up emergency operations centers immediately.
“We have been preparing for this since January when we activated Emergency Operations Center in the North Dakota Department of Health,” Burgum said. “Today’s emergency declaration is the next logical step in our proactive efforts to contain and mitigate the coronavirus disease through a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach. It gives us more access to federal resources, including testing capabilities. We will continue to keep the public informed with updates and additional decisions as this situation rapidly evolves.”
North Dakota has had one individual test positive for COVID-19, but the case did not involve community transmission. The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) on Wednesday confirmed the state’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 in a Ward County resident in his 60s. The man had traveled out of state where he had contact with a person who has since tested positive for the disease. The Ward County man is currently self-isolating and recovering at home as the public health investigation is ongoing and NDDoH awaits confirmation testing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ten additional tests came back negative today, bringing the total number of negative tests to 46 since testing began last week. Results for 16 tests are pending.
Burgum and Baesler also discussed guidance for K-12 schools, including that school closure recommendations will occur on a case-by-case basis. The North Dakota Department of Health does not recommend child care or school closures if COVID-19 cases are not occurring in your community or school. Schools should follow CDC guidance regarding preparing for COVID-19. Guidance includes monitoring absenteeism, keeping sick children out, ensuring handwashing, environmental cleaning, communicating with parents, etc.
“The decision to close schools is regularly made by local superintendents in response to weather and other events in order to maintain the health and safety of students and staff,” Baesler said. “However, during a health-related outbreak such as this, it is recognized that local school districts look to their state health, safety and education agencies, in addition to the Governor’s Office, for direction. We as a state will continue to assist in providing the most current and accurate information.”
Sanford Health officials commended the decision to keep schools open.
“Sanford supports a common-sense approach to managing the spread of COVID-19 and commends North Dakota for the actions they have already taken,” said Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of Sanford Health. “Closing schools affects the entire community – from the economic impact on small businesses to the extra burden placed on families having to find childcare. As we know, this is a fluid situation, but I believe keeping schools open is what is best for North Dakota communities and families at this time.”
“It is important to plan and prepare, but at this time when there is no community spread, we support Gov. Burgum’s recommendation for children to remain in school,” said Allison Suttle, M.D., chief medical officer at Sanford Health. “Students who rely on schools for hot meals and other essential services would be put at greater risk if attending school is not an option.”
The K-12 guidance aligns with recommendations released by the Governor’s Office and NDDoH today for gatherings and public events based on three risk levels, or thresholds:
- Low Risk - Threshold 1 means mitigated or uncontained community transmission of coronavirus is occurring elsewhere, but there may not be evidence of significant community transmission in North Dakota yet. At this level, authorities should consider initiating minimally restrictive, or burdensome, but effective mitigation measures. Additionally, authorities should consider canceling or postponing events where a substantive number of attendees are from high-risk locations or high-risk populations.
- Moderate Risk - Threshold 2 is defined as evidence that unmitigated or uncontained community transmission of coronavirus is occurring in at least one geographic jurisdiction within the state. At this level, authorities should consider canceling or rescheduling events if located within the area that has community transmission of the disease or if a large number of attendees are anticipated to come from these impacted areas. Consider alternative attendance options such as web-based, televised only or remote attendance.
- High Risk - Threshold 3 means there is widespread community transmission of coronavirus within North Dakota. At this level, authorities should cancel or postpone all events that involve the potential for disease transmission and cannot accommodate alternative attendance options.
The NDDoH also issued a memo Thursday to long-term care providers supporting limited access to nursing homes as recommended by the American Health Care Association. The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also has suspended in-person visitation.
For the most updated and timely information and updates related to COVID-19, visit the NDDoH website at www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus , follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Video of today's press conference is available here.