North Dakota trying to ease stress on hospitals, workers

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday that health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 but do not have symptoms should be allowed to stay on the job, part of an effort to ease the stress both on hospitals and medical personnel trying to keep up with skyrocketing cases.

The governor said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been allowing infected workers without symptoms to keep working as long as they take precautionary measures. The state is also looking to increase rapid testing of healthcare workers to “keep them in the game,” the governor said.

The governor said leaders from the six major hospitals in the state will meet daily to discuss hospital space and staffing, with the likelihood of shifting nurses and other medical personnel even “among competitors if necessary.” Some hospitals will also be suspending some elective surgeries, he said.

Burgum also announced that every county in the state has been declared at high risk, which means that businesses will be limited to 25 percent capacity with a cap of 50 people and no standing room allowed. He added that masks “should be required.”

The edict comes on a day when 14 more patients were hospitalized due to COVID-19 to increase the record number of people being treated in medical facilities to 254.

Burgum said that while that while people may disagree on the effects of the virus, “the one thing that is not debatable is that our hospitals are under enormous pressure.”

There are 11 staffed intensive care beds and 203 staff inpatient beds available statewide, according to data updated Monday afternoon.

The state confirmed 1,160 new virus cases since Sunday, lifting the total to nearly 55,500 since the start of the pandemic. There were 2,182 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, Johns Hopkins University researchers reported.

The death toll stands at 644, including five fatalities in the last day. North Dakota has climbed to 10th overall in the number of deaths per capita in the last two weeks.

Cass County, which includes Fargo, and Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, had a combined 430 cases since Sunday. The two counties have accounted for more than 20,000 of the state’s cases.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.