ND health officials: 'Start readying our state' for coronavirus arrival

There are no known North Dakota cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Health officials are monitoring nine people, and taking new steps to promote preventative activities to state residents.

A model of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. U.S. health officials have stated that COVID-19 is expected to become a significant public health concern in the United States. (Illustration courtesy of Centers for Disease Control)
Contributed / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BISMARCK — North Dakota health officials say they're moving into a new phase of dealing with the coronavirus: preparing local communities.

Several top health officials spoke to media in a press conference in Bismarck on Friday, Feb. 28. They acknowledged the call earlier this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ready for the virus' widespread arrival and spread in the U.S.

"We are now transitioning also into another phase of this," said Kirby Kruger, director of the Division of Disease Control at the North Dakota Department of Health. "Although we still want to do the early identification and containment, we also need to start readying our state for community-level preventions."

North Dakota has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nobody is currently being tested for the illness. Kruger said the state is monitoring nine people who have returned from China, where the virus originated, for a 14-day period. Those people are voluntarily quarantining themselves.

"The risk of COVID-19 in North Dakota is low, but not zero," Kruger said.


How state has prepared for coronavirus

There is an existing coalition of public and private partners formed since 2002 that have worked together to plan for a wide variety of emergencies, including wide-scale transmission of communicable diseases, said Tim Wiedrich, emergency preparedness and response section chief at the Department of Health.

The preparatory steps by the coalition to respond to a situation like a potential coronavirus outbreak include:

  • Providing information to clinical personnel and emergency medical personnel;
  • Distributed to hospitals equipment known as PAPRs —hoods with powered filtration systems, to protect health care personnel from potential infection;
  • Readying the North Dakota state medical cache, which holds a significant reserve of medical equipment, such as masks and gowns, if that equipment would prove hard to get elsewhere;

  • Set up transportation method for patients positively identified with coronavirus, including arrangements and training of ambulance services;
  • Worked with 911 systems so if COVID-19 makes an in-state appearance, dispatchers are asking the right questions to identify potential cases.

"While we don’t have specifics for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the all-hazards approach that we’ve taken has placed us in a strong position for a response," Wiedrich said.

What measures to take

Kruger emphasized the ongoing influenza season continues to be a concern, with a possible record year for the virus in the state, and recommended everyone get the flu vaccine.

Kruger recommended North Dakotans practice preventative measures to cut down on the possible transmission and spread of diseases, including the coronavirus:

  • Stay home when you’re sick;
  • Practice good respiratory etiquette. Cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it, or if no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your elbow;
  • Frequently wash your hands and/or apply hand sanitizer;
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces;
  • If planning international travel, review the latest travel advisories issued by the CDC.

Kruger said public health officials aren't recommending people wear facemasks. It might make sense for someone infected with COVID-19 to wear a facemask to prevent the illness' spread.
"From our perspective, I don't think there's any good science to support that a facemask is going to protect somebody anymore than taking these other measures that we've talked about," he said.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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