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Bill impacts state health officer hiring; vaccinations begin at state prison facilities

Bill impacts state health officer hiring; vaccinations begin at state prison facilities

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A House bill regarding the structure of two state agencies has caused a hiccup in the hiring process for a new state health officer.

House Bill 1247 would combine the state Health Department, which the state health officer oversees, and the Department of Human Services. It passed the House on a 73-21 vote and moves to the Senate for consideration.

Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke said during a State Health Council meeting Wednesday that the state had a candidate it was "moving forward with" but the bill made the candidate hesitate when considering the role.

"In fact, it was this bill that gave them pause," Wilke said.

Governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki told the Tribune that the candidate is still interested in the position because there has been "additional clarity" as the bill and other legislation related to the state health officer move through the Legislature. He said the state hopes to have an announcement regarding the role soon.

Wilke has served on an interim basis since September. He's the fourth person to serve in the role in the past year. He replaced Paul Mariani, who resigned after 12 days on the job when Gov. Doug Burgum rescinded an order that would have required close contacts of someone with COVID-19 to quarantine and carried a misdemeanor punishment for noncompliance. Mariani succeeded Andrew Stahl, who served for three months and resigned in August to reenter clinic practice. Stahl took over for Mylynn Tufte, who quit in May to return to the private sector.

Daily data

State health officials on Wednesday reported 118 new COVID-19 cases from 7,438 tests completed Tuesday, and calculated a daily positivity rate of 2.15%.

Active cases rose slightly, to 702 statewide and 135 in Burleigh-Morton counties. The state's pandemic death toll rose by one, to 1,440.

Coronavirus in North Dakota Active

Since the onset of the pandemic in North Dakota last March, there have been 99,531 confirmed cases, with 97,389 recoveries and 3,860 hospitalizations. Current hospitalizations dropped by three on Wednesday, to 28.

Health officials have tested more than 403,000 North Dakotans for COVID-19 and given at least one dose of vaccine to about 115,500 residents.

Corrections vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at state prison facilities including the State Penitentiary in Bismarck.

Vaccine is being made available to inmates and staff, who can choose whether to get a shot, according to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. All facilities should have the first round of vaccinations completed by the end of the week. Both types of available vaccine require two doses, weeks apart.

More than 600 state prisoners and 300 Corrections staff have been infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic despite safety protocols being implemented. The start of vaccinations "brings us one step closer to normalcy and resuming visitation,” Interim Corrections Director Dave Krabbenhoft said. “As more people volunteer to receive the vaccine, it makes our communities safer inside and outside, ultimately keeping our staff safer as well.”

For more information, go to https://www.docr.nd.gov/covid-19-information.

More information

All North Dakota counties are in the green "low" risk level on the state's five-level color-coded system. The risk level determines coronavirus-related protocols in place under the ND Smart Restart Plan for everything from businesses to family gatherings. Those protocols are not enforced. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/38npUYV.

The state's COVID-19 Smart Restart County Analysis data dashboard can be accessed at www.health.nd.gov/healthmetrics. A list of free testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. A list of vaccine priority groups can be found at https://www.health.nd.gov/covid-19-vaccine-priority-groups. People can go to health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.

For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or sam.nelson@bismarcktribune.com.

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