BISMARCK — North Dakota nursing homes will soon be able to reopen for visitation of residents if they meet a list of criteria set by the state officials.

Gov. Doug Burgum and Human Services director Chris Jones announced the new guidelines at a press conference on Friday, May 29.

Nursing homes are viewed as particularly susceptible to deadly outbreaks of the illness because many residents are 65 or older and have underlying conditions. Visitation by friends and family at nursing homes has been shut since early April, but still nearly 80% of the deaths in the state have come in the facilities.

The new criteria mean some nursing homes, especially those in areas where COVID-19 hasn't spread widely, will be able to restart family visitation sooner than others.

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Jones said resuming visitation of residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will depend on:

  • the prevalence of COVID-19 in the area surrounding a facility
  • the completion of at least two rounds of testing on residents and employees
  • a facility's continued commitment to performing testing
  • a total lack of new cases in residents
  • adequate local hospital capacity and access to personal protection equipment

The state's 218 facilities will have to work with Jones and his team on plans to resume visitation, Burgum said. Jones said individual facilities will contact families about visitation, and there will likely be requirements to schedule visits ahead of time.

All the facilities in the state have completed at least one round of testing on residents and employees, but Jones noted that the guidelines will be a good incentive for nursing homes to keep up testing efforts.

Jones did not offer specifics on what early visits will look like, but he said some facilities may opt to confine them to inside the facility or nearby outdoor areas.

Burgum also announced Friday that his administration has deemed it safe for the state's business to move into a new phase of reopening, in which guidelines for restaurants and large gatherings are less stringent. The guidelines are not enforced by law but strongly encouraged by the state.

The new business guidelines increase the recommendation for in-house restaurant capacity from 50% to 75%. Banquets, weddings and other gatherings at large venues may open up to 500 people at 75% capacity, while movie theaters may hold 65% of normal capacity. Customers and workers at nail salons, barbershops and other personal care businesses should continue wearing masks, Burgum said.

Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health announced the deaths of two more Fargo area residents from COVID-19.

Like every other victim of the illness, the department said the woman in her 90s and man in his 70s had underlying health conditions.

Fifty-nine North Dakotans, including 48 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 100,000 lives nationwide.

The department also reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on a close to 3,000 tests performed.

Thirty of the new cases Friday came from Cass County, which encompasses Fargo and has become the epicenter of the virus in North Dakota. The county now has 1,661 known cases, but the department reports 1,170 previously infected residents in the county have recovered. More than three-quarters of the currently infected North Dakotans reside in Cass County.

Four of the new cases Friday came from Stutsman County, which includes Jamestown. The county now has five currently infected residents, according to the department.

Three of the new cases came from Grand Forks County, which has the second most active cases in the state at 31.

The other three new cases Friday came from Burleigh, Richland and Rolette counties.

A total of 2,520 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but nearly 75% have recovered from the illness. There are 36 residents hospitalized with the illness, up one from Thursday.

The state announced 2,894 test results, marking one of the highest testing days since the outbreak began in March. However, more than half of the people in the latest batch had previously been tested for the virus. Burgum said the state is performing regular testing of those living and working in nursing homes.

A total of 89,599 tests have been performed, but many residents have been tested more than once.

Burgum said the state and its health care providers aim to perform 4,000 tests per day by the end of the month. He has maintained throughout the pandemic that widespread available testing is the key to restoring normalcy to work and home life.

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