Burgum bumps risk levels for several North Dakota counties

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum raised the coronavirus risk level Thursday in several North Dakota counties but did not order restrictions, even as the number of hospitalizations and new infections set daily highs and as the state reels from its deadliest month since the pandemic began.

Burgum moved eight counties from moderate to high risk under the state’s five-level plan to set coronavirus management protocols for everything from businesses to family gatherings. That brings to 24 the number of North Dakota’s 53 counties now deemed high risk. The guidance for high-risk counties includes limiting businesses occupancy to 25% with a cap of 50 people and encouraging businesses to require masks. The guidelines are only recommendations and not enforced.

Burgum raised the alert level to high for Grand Forks, Mercer, LaMoure, Ramsey, Richland, Towner, Walsh and Ward counties. He also raised the risk levels for eight counties from low to moderate risk. They are Adams, Hettinger, Kidder, Pembina, Rolette, Stutsman, Traill and Wells counties.

Burgum has avoided statewide mandates such as mask-wearing and business occupancies, instead stressing a personal responsibility message, a theme he renewed Thursday at his weekly coronavirus update at the state Capitol. He has said the five-level color-coded guidelines are to be used by local leaders “as a baseline for their own policies.”

City leaders in many communities, including Fargo, Bismarck and Minot, have moved to require face coverings in most settings, though the directives are not enforced.

Burgum said more than half of the state’s population are living in areas that have some sort of directive to wear masks.

“We have seen communities coming together. We’re seeing some progress,” the Republican governor said.

There are “signs of optimism — I wouldn’t say we’ve turned the corner yet,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, the North Dakota Department of Health reported six hospitalizations in the last day due to the coronavirus, increasing the total number of patients in medical facilities to a record 184.

North Dakota’s death toll from COVID-19 hit 499 on Thursday, with health officials reporting an additional 11 deaths. October has been the deadliest month to date from the coronavirus, accounting for 228 of the deaths recorded since the pandemic began.

Health officials reported a record 1,222 new infections from the virus on Thursday, and a daily positivity rate of 15.6%.

The COVID Tracking Project reported that North Dakota has had more than 1,442 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which leads the nation. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by more than 40% in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

There were 240 available inpatient beds plus 23 intensive care unit beds in North Dakota, according to state data.

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