Burgum raises coronavirus risk levels for several counties

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday raised the coronavirus risk level in several North Dakota counties but issued no mandated restrictions, even as the state’s number of active COVID-19 cases has risen to record levels every day for the past week.

Burgum moved 16 counties from moderate risk to high under the state’s five-level plan to set coronavirus management protocols for everything from businesses to family gatherings. The guidance for high-risk counties includes limiting businesses occupancy to 25% with a cap of 50 people and encouraging businesses to require masks. The guidelines are only recommendations and not enforced.

“The goal is decreasing transmissible moments,” Burgum said at his weekly coronavirus update at the state Capitol

Burgum raised the alert level to high for Benson, Bottineau, Burleigh, Cass, Dickey, Dunn, Emmons, Golden Valley, McHenry, McKenzie, McLean, Morton, Mountrail, Sioux, Stark and Williams counties. He also raised the risk levels for nine counties from low to moderate risk. They are Bowman, Foster, Lamoure, Mercer, McIntosh, Nelson, Richland, Towner and Walsh counties.

The guidance for moderate-risk counties includes cutting capacity at businesses to 50%, with a cap of 100 people.

Only one of North Dakota’s 53 counties — Steele — is at the lowest level under the Burgum’s ND Smart Restart Plan. Logan and Sargent counties were moved from moderate risk to low risk.

Burgum has avoided statewide mandates such as mask-wearing, instead stressing a personal responsibility message. He has said the five-level color-coded guidelines are to be used by local leaders “as a baseline for their own policies.”

Earlier Wednesday, North Dakota health officials confirmed 713 new positive COVID-19 cases and 159 new active cases, along with eight additional deaths.

The update came after The COVID Tracking project reported that the state topped 900 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, based on numbers collected through Tuesday. That ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, ahead of No. 2 South Dakota’s figure of more than 832 new cases per 100,000 residents.

A total of 28,947 positive tests have been verified in North Dakota since the pandemic began. Cass County confirmed 216 new cases, for a total of 6,917, and Burleigh County confirmed 151 new positive tests, for a total of 4,970.

It was the state’s seventh straight day of record active cases, putting the total at 4,750. Cass County, which includes Fargo, has a total of 1,099 active cases and Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, has 905 active cases. Hospitalizations fell by 26, to a total of 132.

North Dakota has recorded 365 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began.