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State releases new quarantine guidance, promises more detailed hospital capacity data

State releases new quarantine guidance, promises more detailed hospital capacity data

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State Division of Disease Control Director Kirby Kruger talks about the use of masks and new quarantine guidance announced by Gov. Doug Burgum during Thursday's briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the state Capitol in Bismarck. To the right is sign language interpreter Lindsey Solberg Herbel.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday released new quarantine guidance aimed at getting more people to wear masks, and pledged to provide more detailed daily information on hospital capacity in the state.

Those who are close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be urged to quarantine for 14 days if both people involved were wearing masks, Burgum said during a public coronavirus briefing. Those close contacts will be asked only to self-monitor for symptoms. The change applies to most settings, including schools and day cares. It does not apply to health care.

Burgum has resisted a mask mandate, while encouraging the wearing of masks. Some local governments in the Bismarck-Mandan region also have declined to mandate masks or to consider doing so, even at the recommendation of the Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force.

Burgum and State Division of Disease Control Director Kirby Kruger on Thursday said the new state quarantine guideline offers an incentive.

"The steps that we have taken here are embracing what we understand about masks and the science behind masks and that wearing a mask has direct impacts on the spread of COVID-19," Kruger said.

Hospital capacity

State health officials on Thursday reported nine more coronavirus-related deaths in North Dakota and a new daily high for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Hospital capacity is diminishing in the state and in Bismarck as active cases continue to climb -- they rose statewide by 29 from Wednesday, to 3,690. Burleigh County continues to lead the state, with 684. Morton County has 245.

Hospitalizations statewide rose to 106, up 17 from Wednesday. The number was one higher than the previous record, set on Monday and matched on Tuesday.

Sanford Health and CHI St. Alexius employees have brought concerns about diminishing hospital capacity to the Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force, which has been working for nearly two months to address the spike of cases in the region. The state health department's public COVID-19 dashboard lists numbers of licensed beds available statewide, but not all of those beds are staffed.

As of Tuesday, there were only 15 available beds including two intensive care unit beds at Bismarck's two hospitals, according to information state officials supplied to the Tribune. Sanford was opening a new unit with 14 total beds, including six designated for intensive care patients. 

Burgum said the state will be updating its COVID-19 dashboard to include daily bed capacity information for at least the larger hospitals, and “We’re working to clarify the difference between licensed beds in the state and those that are staffed,” he said. “Because it’s one thing to have a licensed bed, but it’s also important that we have the staffing.”

Daily data

Six of the newly confirmed deaths were in the Bismarck-Mandan region: a Burleigh woman in her 80s, two Morton women in their 80s and one in her 90s, and Morton men in their 60s and 80s. Burleigh now has 50 pandemic-related deaths and Morton 33.

The health department also reported the deaths of a 50-year-old Stutsman County man, a 60-year-old Divide County man and an 80-year-old Richland County man. All of the new victims had underlying medical conditions, according to the state. They brought the statewide pandemic death total to 256.

Health officials on Thursday reported 373 new COVID-19 cases including 44 in Burleigh and 14 in Morton, raising the pandemic total to 22,218. There have been 18,272 recoveries statewide and 884 hospitalizations. 

The number of North Dakota residents tested for coronavirus at least once is at 242,900 and total tests number 642,453.

The federal government is sending 14,000 "rapid result" tests to North Dakota, and the state expects to have 220,000 of them by the end of the year, according to Burgum. The tests are being distributed to states on a per-capita basis, he said. North Dakota would likely use the tests in nursing home and school settings, he said. 

Burleigh and Morton counties are in the yellow "moderate" risk level, which is in the middle of the state's five-level color-coded system. The risk level determines what sort of coronavirus-related protocols are in place under the ND Smart Restart Plan for everything from businesses to family gatherings. The protocols are not enforced.

Fourteen other North Dakota counties are at yellow, 25 are in the green or "low" risk level and 12 are in the blue "new normal" level. The state reviews the county risk levels on a weekly basis. They did not change this week, according to Burgum.

For more detailed information on county risk levels and on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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