North Dakota reaches 200 deaths in COVID-19 pandemic, changes coming to long-term care


"We've reached the somber milestone of 200 deaths," North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced Wednesday morning at his weekly press briefing at the North Dakota State Capitol building in Bismarck. With seven new deaths reported on Wednesday, the state now sits at 203 total deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Burgum also touched on data regarding deaths in the last seven days. North Dakota saw 26 deaths in the last seven days, with 19 of them coming in Burleigh and Morton counties in southwestern North Dakota. Burgum says a number of the deaths occurred related to an individual long-term care facility.

In addition to the many deaths, 10 long-term care facilities have more than 10 cases of either residents or staff, out of 214 facilities statewide.

"An increase in long-term cases is a reflection of community spread," Burgum says.

To combat the increases in long term care, Burgum and his team at the State Health Lab in Bismarck are prioritizing testing of long-term care residents, and those test batches are being "made head of line," adding that the state will be trying to get results to facilities within 24 hours of the end of testing at a facility.

In addition, long-term care facilities are seeing staffing shortages. Shelly Peterson, President of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, tells WZFG News that nursing facilities in both rural and urban areas are having difficulties regarding staffing. To help with the shortages, 200 nurses from North Dakota's Department of Health will be helping to staff long-term care facilities, instead of their previous work in conducting the actual swabbing tests. Local emergency medical technicians will be trained to conduct the tests.

The state is also working to install air disinfection systems in North Dakota's long-term care facilities.

Several counties were moved around on the risk map, including Pembina, Pierce and Rolette Counties moved from green (low risk) to blue (new normal); Billings, Foster, Mercer and Renville moved from blue down to green; and Cass, Dunn, Emmons, McKenzie, Richland, Sargent, Stutsman and Ward moved from green to yellow (moderate risk). Burgum also says Barnes, Benson, Burleigh, Morton, Stark and Williams counties are "approaching high risk." The new risk levels take effect Friday morning.

Burgum said a county's level should not correlate to education instruction.

"A county's color change doesn't necessarily mean a school should change its instructional model," he said.

The North Dakota Interim State Health Officer also order close contacts of those who are positive to quarantine and get tested - excluding essential workers.