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Tribune editorial: ND must stop downplaying COVID-19 risk

Tribune editorial: ND must stop downplaying COVID-19 risk

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If you compare North Dakota's coronavirus numbers to hot spot states including Florida or Texas, it's easy to think we don't have a problem. That comparison is deceiving.

Last week, some members of the Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force voiced concern over what they consider mixed messages being sent about the coronavirus. The state’s coronavirus risk level remains at green, or low risk, despite numbers trending upward. Active cases declined early this week in Burleigh-Morton and statewide, but whether it’s the beginning of a trend remains to be seen. Active cases rose to a new daily high on Tuesday.

One statistic that should worry people is that at 29 cases per 100,000 last week, North Dakota was tied with Mississippi for the highest per capita case count. While our state’s population may be low, our odds of getting the coronavirus are good.

Gov. Doug Burgum said last week he doesn’t want to raise the risk level until there’s a long-term trend. He described Burleigh-Morton as “an area of concern.” Stark County also has seen a recent spike in cases. Unfortunately, positive cases lag behind exposure by three to seven days. North Dakota and other states are seeing that from those exposed at the Sturgis bike rally.

The Tribune editorial board believes waiting for a long-term trend could get parts of the state into trouble that could be avoided. The mixed messages causing concern among task force members involve the call for the use of masks while keeping the risk level low. A campaign is being develop to promote the use of masks in Burleigh-Morton, but it’s probably too late to change the behavior of people.

Masks already are required in medical facilities and many businesses, especially national chain stores. Local businesses often don’t want to require masks because they don’t want to offend customers. We are beyond that point, because masks are proven to help prevent the spread of the disease. Still, too many people are going about life as if the coronavirus doesn’t exist.

As schools reopen across the state, the use of social distancing, hand sanitizers and masks are key steps being taken to protect students and staff. Some schools are using a hybrid of distance learning with in-class instruction. There’s certainly concern that schools could increase the spread of the coronavirus.

We are kidding ourselves to think the entire state is in a low-risk category. It would make sense to put at least hot spots like Burleigh, Morton and Stark into the moderate risk level. This would limit gatherings and give schools time to get into a routine. Instead of watching for a trend, we should create a trend with heightened safety procedures.

North Dakota was never closed down like many states, and it’s not the desire of the Tribune to see that happen. However, we haven’t reached a new normal and need to be more aggressive about combating the coronavirus.

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