With virus cases down, North Dakota resumes contact tracing

December 22, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Department of Health said Tuesday it is reinstating contact tracing for all people who test positive for the coronavirus.

The department had cut back on much of its contact tracing among the general public in October as the virus surged, focusing on health care facilities, schools and universities. Officials asked other people to self-notify their close contacts.

Contact tracers notify individuals who have been within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period, so they can quarantine.

“Active cases and hospitalizations across North Dakota continue to decrease, and that’s promising,” Disease Control Director Kirby Kruger said in a statement. “To keep our numbers and hospital capacity manageable, we need individuals to continue to isolate when they test positive and quarantine when they are a close contact.”

The announcement comes after Gov. Doug Burgum signed an amended executive order that paved the way for bars and restaurants in North Dakota to return to regular hours of operation on Tuesday.

The food service establishments had been closed to in-person service between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m. since Nov. 16. The order Burgum signed Monday allows them to return to normal hours, consistent with any local requirements.

But to keep the virus in check, the bars and restaurants must follow other state and local rules, including limiting capacity to 50% and allowing no more than 150 people inside until Jan. 8. Social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions also remain in place.


“With the great efforts and personal responsibility of North Dakotans, the combination of the other mitigation measures we still have in place, and the promise and expanding deployment of vaccines, rapid tests and therapeutics, we can allow restaurants and bars to resume normal operating hours and still continue to protect the vulnerable, preserve hospital capacity and keep students in the classroom,” Burgum said in a statement.

A state order requiring masks to be worn in indoor businesses, indoor public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible remains in effect until Jan. 18. Banquet, ballroom and event venues also remain limited to 25% percent of maximum occupancy until Jan. 8.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in North Dakota have decreased to 135 from a peak of 341 on Nov. 11, while active cases have decreased to 2,439 on Tuesday since peaking at 10,293 on Nov. 13, according to the Department of Health.

State health officials on Tuesday also reported five additional deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,238.

The death count is the 41st highest in the country overall and the fourth highest per capita at 162 deaths per 100,000 people, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.

There were 891 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks 22nd in the country for new cases per capita, the researchers said. One in every 371 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week.

North Dakota had held the top spot for coronavirus spread for many weeks until recently.

To avoid another surge, the governor urges residents to continue to take precautions and limit holiday gatherings.

“The next 10 days over the holidays are a period of high risk for transmission, and it’s up to all North Dakotans to ensure we continue trending in the right direction,” Burgum said.