BISMARCK — North Dakotans will soon be able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes after two months apart.
Gov. Doug Burgum announced an amendment Friday, June 5, to an April executive order that shut down visitation at long-term care facilities. The amendment allows all facilities to open up outdoor visitation of residents and introduces standards for nursing homes to open up indoor visitation.
Every nursing home in the state can now choose to host outdoor visitation as long as they provide clean facemasks, a safe location and appropriate measures to distance residents from visitors. For now, the visits must be made by appointment with individual facilities.
Nursing homes will also be able open up visitation within their facilities if they meet the state's standards of having a limited number of active COVID-19 cases in the surrounding county and no new cases among residents of the facility. So far, 40 facilities in the state have met this standard, said Chris Jones, the director of the state Department of Human Services. All plans to reopen indoor visitation must be approved by the state.
Burgum mentioned a loose plan to begin testing family members and friends who visit the facilities, as well as patrons of restaurants and people who attend religious services. Currently, testing is prioritized for vulnerable people, those who work around them and residents showing symptoms of the illness.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jon Jensen also spoke Friday about the resumption of jury trials as early as July 1. Many county courthouses will reopen in the coming weeks, and Jensen said the court system would have to begin holding some of the 3,400 scheduled jury trials to avoid an insurmountable backlog.
Jensen said the courts will take a number of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the enforcement of proper social distancing, rigorous cleaning regimens and staggered jury reporting times. He said those summoned for duty may be allowed to defer jury status if they have pre-existing health conditions and fear for their safety during the ongoing outbreak.
Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health reported five more deaths in the state from COVID-19.
Two men and two women from Cass County, all at least 70 years old, died from the illness with underlying health conditions. A Grand Forks County man in his 60s whose death was reported Friday is the state's first victim who did not have any underlying conditions, according to the department.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults and people with HIV, diabetes, asthma, liver disease or other conditions that compromise one's immune system are at a greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. However, old age itself is not considered an underlying condition.
The department says 71 North Dakotans have succumbed to the illness, all but 12 of whom were residents of Cass County, which encompasses the Fargo area. Fifty-three of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
The department on Friday also announced 40 new cases of COVID-19.
Thirty-two of the new cases Friday came from Cass County. The county now has had 1,834 known cases, but the department reports nearly four in five of the infected residents in the county have recovered. More than 70% of the currently infected North Dakotans reside in Cass County.
The other eight new cases Friday came from Burleigh, Mercer, Richland, Sioux, Stutsman and Ward counties.
North Dakota, which ranks among the top states in the country in testing per capita, announced about 2,600 test results Friday. The state has not yet hit Burgum's goal of processing at least 4,000 tests per day, but officials say a lack of demand for testing under the current criteria is to blame.
The governor has maintained since the beginning of the pandemic that testing would be the key to returning to a sense of normalcy.
A total of 2,745 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but 2,242 have recovered. There are 30 residents hospitalized with the illness, down two from Thursday.
Medical professionals listed COVID-19 as the official cause of death for 56 of the state's victims. Eight were determined to have died primarily because of another condition while infected with COVID-19, and seven more death records are pending. The department also notes that three people not included in the official death count were presumed to have died from COVID-19 but did not test positive while they were alive.
A total of 107,509 tests have been performed, but some residents have been tested more than once. Burgum said the state is performing regular testing of those living and working in nursing homes.
As a public service, we’ve opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status. If this coverage is important to you, please consider supporting local journalism by clicking on the subscribe button in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.