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Burgum declares state of emergency over coronavirus; schools to stay open

North Dakota’s first known case of the virus was confirmed Wednesday night, a Ward County man in his 60s who had recently traveled to the East Coast. He’s recovering at home, and state health

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Gov. Doug Burgum, right, spoke about coronavirus in North Dakota at a press conference Thursday morning with state health department officials. He emphasized the importance of people washing hands, having good respiratory etiquette and staying home if sick. Listening at left are Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
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BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum declared a state of emergency for North Dakota on Friday, March 13, in response to COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

Burgum's declaration comes just hours after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency that he said would give states and territories access to as much as $50 billion in federal funds to fight the spreading epidemic.

North Dakota's declaration means the state is in a position to access federal funds more easily and can waive certain regulations to better respond to the spread of the virus, Burgum said. The declaration also allows for the activation of the North Dakota National Guard to respond if a more extreme outbreak occurs.

Burgum said the state of emergency might be the first ever prompted by a statewide public health issue. However, he stressed that the state is well-prepared to deal with the virus and urged residents not to panic.

The state’s first known case of the virus was confirmed Wednesday night, a Ward County man in his 60s who had recently traveled to the East Coast. He’s recovering at home, and state health officials do not suspect he transmitted the virus to anyone in his community.

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The state Department of Health has tested 63 people for the virus since last week, with 46 tests coming back negative and 16 still pending, according to the state's test tracking webpage.

North Dakota is one of more than 45 states with at least one confirmed case of coronavirus.

Burgum and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler also announced Friday that public K-12 schools in the state will remain open because the state is "making decisions based on facts, not fear."

Baesler said K-12 schools serve a different constituency than colleges and universities, many of which have suspended classes. Children are less likely to suffer from the illness, and taking them out of school would cause hardship for parents and other caregivers, who would have to stay home from work, she said.

Most districts in the state are not prepared to implement online classes on short notice, and even in those that are, there would be an "equity issue" for students who don't have access to computers at home, Baesler said.

The end of the week saw organizers and administrators cancel all sorts of large gatherings, including sporting events, concerts and religious services. In North Dakota , the boys and girls state high school basketball tournaments and the Democratic-NPL Party's state convention have all been either suspended or canceled because of the virus.

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Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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