An amended State Health Officer order issued Wednesday related to quarantining of close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases is being rescinded today. The Department of Health clarified that the intent of the order was to align with CDC guidelines, emphasize the urgent need for those exposed to positive individuals to avoid potentially spreading the disease to others, and encourage local officials to work together on the best strategies to combat COVID-19.

“This pandemic remains a threat. Nationally, 2.9% of reported COVID-19 cases have resulted in death. While that percentage is just over 1% in North Dakota thanks to strong coronavirus response efforts at the state and local levels, cases continue to rise and our state is on track for a record number of deaths of individuals with COVID-19 in September,” Interim State Health Officer Dr. Paul Mariani said. “While this order is being rescinded, we continue to stress the importance of quarantining and isolation to bend the curve back in the right direction in North Dakota. Whenever possible, all close contacts of individuals infected with COVID-19 should avoid contact with others for 14 days past the last day they were in contact with the person who tested positive.”

The rescinded order had expanded an existing quarantine order for household contacts to apply to all close contacts, following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. The North Dakota Department of Health has always recommended close contacts quarantine to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but previously the order referred only to household contacts.

As required by state law, both the original order and amended order referenced that failure to cooperate with quarantine was punishable by a Class B misdemeanor, though that provision hadn’t been applied since the original order was issued in April. The order continued to allow for essential workforce exemptions for close contacts.

“From the beginning, our approach to this pandemic has emphasized personal responsibility and a light touch of government, as evidenced by the fact that we’re one of the most open states, with schools and universities back in session, the economy open and the nation’s sixth-lowest unemployment rate,” Burgum said. “Given the nature of this disease, it takes community collaboration to bend the curve, and in many counties right now as we reach record cases and positive rates, the curve is going the wrong direction. We need a light touch of government with more local leadership and collaboration, and we feel we can better support those efforts by working more closely with local public health and community leaders to identify mitigation strategies that will work and be supported in each community.”