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Speaking out: Without behavior change, COVID will kill hundreds of North Dakotans by year’s end

Speaking out: Without behavior change, COVID will kill hundreds of North Dakotans by year’s end


We’re on track to kill hundreds more North Dakotans by the end of 2020 if we don’t change our behavior. Refusing to use masks in public is part of this threat. Breathing in each other’s virus-soaked breath inside bars is another source of this threat. Keeping one’s positive COVID-19 test results secret and going to work or school as normal also is to blame. These careless decisions are snuffing out the lives of our neighbors. How many more North Dakotans must die before we take the hint that our choices are the problem?

Death cults are groups with belief systems that require proving one’s faith by behaving in ways that risk death. A death cult should have no place in North Dakota. Why have we let one take over?

The thing about contagious disease mortality is that it can be predicted by math. Now, I know some readers hate math. But please bear with me! Hang in there while I explain the math in simple terms.

The COVID death count of North Dakotans has been extremely predictable. The trends can be explained almost entirely by algebra. We have had two death waves, each following its own trend. The first wave involved deaths reported from late March to early June. By early June, this trend in reported deaths had been dramatically disrupted. This disruption corresponds with the summer lull in COVID cases. Check out Figure 1 at for a graph of these trends.

Summer brought out different behaviors in us, and these behaviors saved lives. We can put a number on the lives saved. As of last week, approximately 145 lives were saved by the summer lull. That is because last week health officials reported 271 total COVID deaths in ND. Meanwhile, had the summer disruption never occurred, we’d have reached approximately 416 deaths last week. Figure 2 at shows how deaths would have accumulated without the summer lull.

The summer lull was like hitting a reset button on COVID death trends. Unfortunately, our second wave of deaths is now in full swing. Deaths have been skyrocketing this month, and we have every reason to believe they will continue to skyrocket without another disruption to our behavior. Figure 3 at shows what’s to come at the end of the year if we don’t change our ways. Without another disruption or lull, we’re due for hundreds more COVID deaths. If we dig in our heels and refuse to change our behavior, we will enter 2021 with COVID having killed approximately 642 North Dakotans.

You might feel uncool wearing a mask, but is being “cool” more important than the deaths of hundreds of North Dakota neighbors? It might be fun to drink and fail to socially distance in a bar, but is that more important than saving hundreds of lives? Drinking booze in the safety of your home is an option, folks. And for the love of God, if anyone in your household tests positive for COVID, your household needs to stay home!

Ditch the death cult, North Dakota. We are better than this, or at least can become better if we so choose. Our elders deserve better from us. Our neighbors with preexisting conditions and high risk levels deserve better from us.

As we celebrate Halloween, a tribute to human mortality and the dark and cold days that winter brings, let’s not literally kill people. And when we ring in the new year, let’s not do so while dancing on the graves and deathbeds of 642 North Dakotans.

We must be better than this.

Ellie Shockley is a political psychologist, social scientist and education researcher. This column represents her personal views and not the views of any organization. She completed a doctorate at the University of Chicago and postdoctorate at Nebraska. She lives in Mandan. Find her past columns at


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