BISMARCK — North Dakota ranks among the top states in the country in COVID-19 testing per capita, but the state's capacity to test residents has outgrown demand for testing, Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference on Tuesday, June 16.
Burgum said the state can now process 5,000 tests per day, however the Department of Health has announced more than 4,000 tests only once since the pandemic began.
Until recently, North Dakota heavily prioritized testing for vulnerable people, those who work around them and residents showing symptoms of the illness.
In an effort to boost demand, Burgum announced last week state and health officials would begin holding testing events open to the public in the state's largest metro areas. Officials ran two free events in Fargo last week and will hold more over the next two weeks. Similar events will be held in Bismarck and Minot this week and Grand Forks next week. There is no proof of insurance or residency required to get tested at the events.
Burgum also said the state will be doing outreach to businesses, especially large manufacturing firms, to set up testing events for employees. He said interested businesses should contact the health department's operation center.
The governor also encouraged family members who would like to visit someone in nursing homes to seek testing. He said the state will be kicking off a pilot project at the Augusta Place living community in Bismarck that will give family members an option to get tested before allowing indoor visitation. North Dakota is one of the first states to allow any kind of visitation in nursing homes.
Burgum said the state is in a strong position in the fight against the illness, but he noted that residents shouldn't get careless now that many aspects of life are returning to normal.
"The set of cards that we have in North Dakota — we wouldn't want to trade them with anyone right now," Burgum said. "But there are still places in this country with exponential growth (of COVID-19), so we need to continue to stay on guard."
Despite the state's relative success in keeping infection rates low, major challenges lie ahead, Burgum said. The state has never had students in schools and college with the threat of COVID-19 hanging in the air. The governor said the state will make a strong effort to test college students, especially those living in dorms, as they go back to class in the fall.
Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health announced 23 new cases of COVID-19.
Nine of the new cases Tuesday came from Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo. The county now has had 2,067 known cases, but the department reports that more than 85% of the residents who once had the illness in the county have recovered. About 55% of the currently infected North Dakotans reside in Cass County, but the county's share of the state's active cases has dropped dramatically in the last two weeks.
Nine new cases came from Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck. The county now has 44 active cases, the second most in the state.
The other five new cases Tuesday came from Grand Forks, McLean, Morton, Ransom and Walsh counties.
The department says 74 North Dakotans have died from the illness, all but 12 of whom were residents of Cass County. Fifty-six of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The department has not reported a new death from the illness since Thursday.
Medical professionals listed COVID-19 as the official cause of death for 65 of the state's victims. Eight were determined to have died primarily because of another condition while infected with COVID-19, and one more death record is 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.
The state announced Tuesday that visitation of behavioral health patients will now be allowed at the State Hospital in Jamestown. Those who would like to visit must make appointments beforehand and wear masks around the hospital's facilities.
A total of 3,101 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but 2,683 have recovered. There are 26 residents hospitalized with the illness, down five from Monday.
A total of 135,691 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.
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