Another North Dakota health officer resigns amid pandemic

August 19, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday announced another resignation by a top health officer in the midst of a worsening coronavirus pandemic in the state.

Burgum said Dr. Andrew Stahl notified him Tuesday that he would be stepping down at the end of the month to join a private practice in Bismarck.

Stahl took over as interim health officer in late May for Mylynn Tufte, who resigned without explanation.

Stahl was not present at Burgum’s weekly coronavirus update at the state Capitol. Burgum made the announcement more than an hour after the meeting began.

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In a joint news release, Stahl called the position “very challenging and rewarding.”

“I’m looking forward to continuing my plans to return to clinical practice and am thankful for the opportunity to serve,” he said in the statement.

Stahl, an officer in the North Dakota Army National Guard’s Medical Corps since 2009, served on the Guard’s COVID-19 task force before joining Burgum’s administration.

The state health officer oversees the Department of Health and implements state laws governing the department. The officer also is a statutory member of a number of boards and commissions.

After Tufte resigned, Burgum said the state health officer became an “impossible task” for one person. Burgum at the time also appointed University of North Dakota Interim President Joshua Wynne to be the state’s newly created chief health strategist.

The state Health Department earlier Wednesday rejected a request from The Associated Press for correspondence related to Tufte’s departure, citing a state law against “all information” procured “for the purpose of disease control or for such purposes of reducing the morbidity or mortality from any cause or condition.”

Burgum, a Republican, said the state health officer “is probably the most challenging position in the state” and a qualified applicant likely would be taking a pay cut of 50% or more.

Stahl’s resignation came as health officials announced two more people died from COVID-19 in North Dakota, bringing the total number of deaths to 130.

North Dakota confirmed 188 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, raising the state’s total to of confirmed cases 8,968 since the pandemic began.

Of the new cases, 42 are in Burleigh County and 11 are in neighboring Morton County. The counties that include the Bismarck metropolitan area have taken over as the state’s hot spot for the virus in recent weeks and account for more than one-third of the state’s 1,209 active cases.

On Wednesday, 49 patients were hospitalized, up two from the previous day.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.