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North Dakota governor boosts COVID-19 measures for elderly

September 23, 2020 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Saying it’s time to “spring into action” to handle rising COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is directing health officials to place those residents at the head of the line for testing and to shift medical personnel and supplies to congregate settings.

The changes were outlined Wednesday after Burgum announced a “somber milestone” of topping 200 deaths due to complications from the coronavirus and “too many” fatalities in nursing homes. State health officials have reported 26 deaths in the last seven days, all of whom were men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s with underlying health conditions, he said.

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Burgum said 19 of those deaths have been in Burleigh and Morton counties, the state’s hot spot, many of them in one facility that he didn’t name at Wednesday’s briefing. Seven deaths were confirmed in the last day, four in those two counties that include the sister cities of Bismarck and Mandan.

Chris Jones, executive director of the state Department of Human Services, said Wednesday that of 52 residents in a long-term care facility in Glen Ullin, about 50 miles west of Bismarck-Mandan, only a half-dozen were spared from the virus. He called it “a function of fatigue, a function of community spread.”

Burgum said efforts will be made to return test results of long-term care residents within 24 hours and prioritize contact tracing and follow-up in those facilities. The state is waiting on new tests from the White House that can determine a result within 15 minutes and those will be dedicated toward residents and healthcare workers in nursing homes. The governor said EMTs and other medical personnel will brought in to help with testing and about 200 nurses from the health department’s operations center will help provide staff coverage.

Test processing at the state lab had previously been on a first-come, first-serve basis, Burgum said.

“We’re doing all this because protecting the vulnerable is our top priority,” said Burgum, who added that in most cases family members will still be allowed to see their loved ones in outdoor settings as there’s “not an appetite for family members to go backward on visitation.

Jones said it’s a matter of “threading the needle” between protecting residents and allowing visitation. He added the state is looking at new guidelines for visitation when the weather turns cold.

Another 475 people tested positive for the coronavirus since Tuesday with a record high of 3,302 active cases in the state. The total number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is 89, which is down in the last 24 hours and likely related to the deaths, Burgum said.