North Dakota is set to fully reopen its economy Friday after 1 ½ months of closed bars and shut-down salons, if positive trends in areas such as coronavirus testing continue, Gov. Doug Burgum announced Monday.
That means bars and restaurants will be permitted to open to on-site customers, and personal care services such as hair salons and recreation businesses such as gyms will be allowed to reopen.
Burgum cited various encouraging factors in the state's efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease, including a low positive test rate for COVID-19, increased contact tracing, ample hospital bed capacity, a testing capacity that ranks fifth-best in the nation and a fatality rate that is sixth-lowest in the country.
"There are lots of things that give us a lot of encouragement," Burgum said, adding that "We are well-positioned for a 'smart restart,'" a reference to the state's eight-component "ND Smart Restart" plan to rebuild economic activity.
Affected businesses will need to follow new standard operating guidelines being crafted by the state and industry groups. Burgum said officials would detail those plans on Tuesday.
Burgum on March 20 ordered eating and drinking establishments, as well as recreation and entertainment businesses, to close to on-site services. A week later he ordered the closure of "personal service" businesses such as beauty salons, massage parlors, and tattoo and body art businesses. Violations carry a fine up to $1,000.
The orders expire on Thursday. If everything goes as planned, they will be replaced on Friday with an executive order allowing businesses to reopen under new operating guidelines that will vary by industry.
State officials have been working toward meeting the eight components of the "ND Smart Restart" plan: widespread rapid testing; robust contact tracing; targeted, effective containment; protections for the most vulnerable; sufficient health care capacity; ample availability of personal protective equipment, preparations for a second surge; and new standard operating procedures for businesses.
"We feel really good about six out of eight of these," Burgum said, adding that more work needs to be done on protections for the most vulnerable and restart protocols for businesses.
Burgum also credited North Dakotans for setting aside the "North Dakota tough" mindset and taking necessary precautions, such as practicing physical distancing and staying home except for necessary trips.
"When we put out the call for 'North Dakota smart,' North Dakotans answered," he said.
Burgum rejected earlier calls to reopen the economy -- including a protest at the Capitol a week ago urging the reopening of businesses that was attended by about 150 people. But he also over the past two months resisted pressure to enact more strict restrictions, including a stay-at-home order similar to what many other states put in place. He instead has urged patience and common sense.
"In North Dakota we've proven that if you've got limited government and high individual responsibility, that's a great combination," he said Monday.
The federal government has issued guidelines for reopening, and several states have begun restarting their economies. North Dakota is paying attention to the guidelines, but "they're not rules," Burgum noted.
"It's good there's not a one-size-fits all, because we can make our own decisions as a state," he said.
Burgum said only 7% of the state's workforce was directly impacted by the business restrictions and shutdowns but acknowledged that for some, it's been "an extremely challenging time." The closure affected North Dakota's 8,812 licensed cosmetologists, 1,959 salons and four cosmetology schools, according to State Board of Cosmetology President Maureen Wanner.
The decision to allow businesses to return to normal, provided current trends hold, does not impact school closures. Distance learning will continue, Burgum said. It also does not change the need for residents to quarantine or self-isolate if necessary, he said, and it will not reopen the state's nursing homes to visitors.
The governor stressed that "as we turn to May 1, the virus will still be here," and that there could be outbreaks in the future because a vaccine could be as much as 1 ½ years away.
"Together we can move forward with a continued emphasis on saving both lives and livelihoods," Burgum said.
Two more people have died of COVID-19 in North Dakota, the state Department of Health reported Monday. That brings the state total to 19 and Cass County's total deaths from the coronavirus disease to 12, including 10 in a span of nine days.
No other county in North Dakota has had more than two deaths. All but one of the Cass County deaths have been in the age range of 70s to 90s -- including the deaths of two 80-year-old men that the state reported Monday. Both victims had underlying conditions.
State officials citing medical privacy had not said whether the Cass County deaths are tied to nursing homes. A total of 61 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 10 long-term care facilities in Fargo, including 22 at Eventide.
Cass County is North Dakota's most populous, with 182,000 people. Burleigh County, home to Bismarck, is the second-most populous, with nearly 95,300 people. Burleigh County has not yet recorded a COVID-19 death, though neighboring Morton County has recorded two.
Positive cases statewide rose 75 from the previous day to 942, according to the health department. Cass County had 34 new cases, raising its total to a state-high 431, and Grand Forks County had 36 new cases, raising its total 231, second to Cass. Burleigh County has the third-most cases, at 74. It had no new cases reported Monday. Nor did neighboring Morton County, where total cases remain at 24.
Other counties with new cases confirmed Sunday and reported Monday were Walsh, Ramsey and Mountrail.
The number of people statewide who have recovered from COVID-19 increased by 24, to 350. Seventy-seven people have been hospitalized; 23 remain so, up five from the previous day.
State and private labs have tested 22,434 people for COVID-19, with 21,492 being negative. There were 1,987 tests conducted Sunday, a single-day high. The state's goal is to work toward 3,000 tests per day.
Most people who get COVID-19 recover, experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. Others, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, can experience more severe illness, including pneumonia.
More information on coronavirus and COVID-19 can be found at: www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.
Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or email@example.com.
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