BISMARCK, N.D. - Gov. Doug Bergum held a news conference with state education, health and National Guard leader Friday afternoon.
A state of emergency gives the governor options and powers in times of need and while the governor admitted how rare it is for this being a health emergency rather than a natural one, he enacted those powers. However he decided against closing schools, saying it would be inappropriate based on CDC recommendations. Kids are not as susceptible to the virus and it would put older people in danger if grandparents needed to watch grandkids.
So what are the qualifications for school closures? Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said, even if there are cases in a community, the schools remain open. The threshold is when there's a confirmed case in the school. If a case is discovered in a student or school employee, the school will be shut down for 72 hours.
“Seventy-two hours will allow the Department of Heath to do contact tracing and make recommendations for which close contacts should be quarantined isolated and excluded from the school,” Baesler said.
She went on to say that a second confirmed case would result in a school closure for 14 days in that community. But the narrative for the past week or so has been to remain calm. Burgum has been saying the stage has been expecting and preparing for this moment for months now.
“Our preparation is key, and our not panicking is key for how we come together on this public health crisis and emergency,” State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte said .
Burgum admitted that this decision is rather contrary to what people are seeing. Around the country, common even in North Dakota, major events are being canceled and leaving schools open can appear counter to the narrative. But he and state health officials said it's about protecting the most vulnerable and responding appropriately without promoting fear.
COVID-19 tests can only be administered by the state Health Department, and patients must meet specific criteria to get the test. Those include signs of symptoms, recent travel history, and close contact with someone with the virus. However, there's one more element that goes into being considered. In some cases, you must be proven to not have other diseases like the flu.
Just last week, the state announced it received clearance from the CDC to test for coronavirus. Since then, state health officials have conducted dozens of tests; all but one either came back negative or are pending.
“Our current demands, we are able to meet those demands. As this ramps up, though, it's possible that we'll become more limited in our supplies,” Kirby Kruger of the CDC said.
Although the state has an approved test, the CDC still needs to run its own tests to confirm a diagnoses. The case in Ward County is a presumptive case. That means the North Dakota test came back positive, but the CDC must conduct their own test to confirm. Those tests could take days for results.
In Thursday's press conference, Burgum announced the state is looking to expand testing options, including drive-thru testing facilities.
"An individual who may suspect they may have symptoms actually don't have to even get out of their car. The people who are administering the tests don't end up infecting medical facilities,” Burgum said.
However, those experiencing mild symptoms should avoid going to the hospital. As of late, health care facilities have been inundated with concerned patients. And many of them aren't equipped with enough staff to handle it.
"You should always call before you go in. We don't want people just showing up to emergency rooms saying, 'I think I've got the coronavirus,' because we would want those emergency rooms to able to be prepared to see you before you come in,” Burgum said.
The state has been loosening their qualifications, but supplies remain limited.
State health officials are calling it a rapidly evolving situation. And earlier Friday, it was announced that 10 more tests have come back negative.