Health Officials Urge Continuation of Mitigation Measures Following Reduction in COVID-19 Risk Levels

Local health officials for Burleigh and Morton Counties urge the continuation of public health mitigation measures following Governor Burgum’s announcement to reduce risk levels for the state of North Dakota. Beginning 8 AM, Friday, January 29, 2021, North Dakota’s COVID-19 risk level will be lowered from moderate/yellow risk to low/green risk. This risk reduction does not mean the pandemic is over, however.

“We are encouraged to see lower case numbers in our region, but we can’t let our guard down just yet,” said BBPH Director, Renae Moch. “Today we have 125 active positive COVID-19 cases in Burleigh County, but just a few months ago we had an all-time high of 1,403 cases.” November 13, 2020 a statewide mask mandate was announced for North Dakota. That same day Burleigh County saw a record high for active positive cases. Cases have continued to decrease as mitigation measures were enforced. “We certainly do not want to go back to the crisis we were in during the months of October and November,” Moch said.

“We are in good shape right now because of the mask mandate,” said Custer Health Administrator Erin Ourada. “However, the rest of the country and world are not fairing so well and that will be knocking on our doorstep soon if we let down our guard.” Mask wearing should also be accompanied by proper mask-wearing habits and hand hygiene.
COVID-19 vaccinations will be key to getting everyone back to normal, pre-pandemic operations. “Every dose administered keeps someone safe,” said Moch. “But we haven’t reached the point of herd immunity yet.”

Vaccinations began at the end of December for residents in Burleigh and Morton Counties. Following vaccination of first responders, healthcare staff and long-term care residents and staff, the vaccine was made available to individuals over the age of 75 in January. Priority groups will continue to receive the vaccine in coming months.

All individuals are encouraged to continue practicing universal precautions to keep yourself and those around you as healthy as possible:

  • Avoid large gatherings.
  • Practice physical distancing that keeps you at least six feet from other people who are not in your household.
  • Wear a face covering if social distancing is not possible.
  • Wash your hands with soap often. If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Monitor your health daily and be alert for COVID-19 symptoms.

The ND Department of Health continues to provide a COVID-19 Hotline to help answer questions. Call 1-866-207-2880, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, with questions. Please note individuals seeking specific medical advice should contact their healthcare provider.

For COVID-19 testing and vaccination inquiries, as well as questions about other health programs and issues, please call Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health at 355-1540, or Custer Health at 667-3371, or you can connect with us through a variety of online platforms and social media. For more info about COVID-19, visit the ND Department of Health website,, or CDC website.

North Dakota University System

Letter to the Editor: Holding back the flood and keeping campuses open

Written By: Mark Hagerott, Doug Jensen, Jerry Migler, Stephen Easton, Doug Darling, Brian Van Horn, Steven Shirley, John Richman, Dean Bresciani, Andrew Armacost, Alan LaFave and John Miller

COVID-19 is a pandemic, and a pandemic only ends when in combination with natural immunities, vaccines or effective treatments are developed, collectively leading to the threat being reduced.

We cannot end the pandemic, but we can take steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones, as well as our communities. We can place obstacles in the way to hold it back as much as possible. We can flatten the curve, and by flattening the curve, we can work hard to keep our colleges open until a cure or a widespread solution is available.

Keeping our colleges open is vital in many capacities. We know it will keep our students moving toward their academic and career goals, and ultimately, future success. We know it will protect our employees’ livelihoods. We also know that remaining open means we can contribute to the local economy much more effectively than if it were necessitated that we operate only in a virtual capacity.

Think of the pandemic like a flood, with which many of us are familiar in our state. To hold back a flood, you sandbag and take everything out of the basement. You make sure your sump pump works; you find a way to divert the flow. You put obstacles in the way of the flood waters, hoping to keep the water out of your home until the flood abates or help arrives. These actions are akin to COVID-19 recommended safety measures that are obstacles to flatten the curve.

Testing, masks, plexiglass barriers, social distancing, self-monitoring, staying home when sick, hand hygiene and supporting one another are all protective obstacles we can use as tools to waylay the effects of the pandemic. Each obstacle strengthens and supports the layer that follows. The obstacles in place won’t stop or cure the pandemic, but they can slow the spread until a vaccine is available. By flattening that curve, by holding back the flood, we make it more likely our students and employees will remain healthy and we can keep our campuses open.

To their credit, the majority of our students are following the COVID-safe practices we have adopted. They are wearing masks and social distancing because they value the opportunity to learn in person. We love our distance students, too, and their lives have been changed differently from our on-campus students’ lives. Students who want to be on campus are willing to sacrifice much of what “normal” college life is to be there in person.

North Dakotans should be very proud of students at the North Dakota University System schools that their tax dollars support. They don’t like masks any more than you do, but they are wearing them to protect their fellow students, faculty and staff, and members of the communities that are homes to their campuses.

The change in county designations to restrict gatherings potentially further such as theater productions, concerts, and athletic contests will negatively impact our students and fans/supporters. Such events are part of the lifeblood of our campus. Because our COVID rates are high in certain counties, the majority of our students in those counties won’t be able to enjoy these important aspects of the college experience.

If all of us did what our students do, there would be much less spread of COVID in North Dakota. Mask use and social distancing are not complete guarantees that one will never get or spread COVID, but they do change the odds dramatically.

Bottom line: Let’s follow the example set across our campuses by NDUS students, faculty, and staff:

  • Wear masks
  • Social distance
  • Avoid large gatherings
  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.

Hagerott is chancellor of the North Dakota University System; Dean is campus dean of Dakota College at Bottineau; and the following are presidents of their respective colleges: Jensen, Bismarck State College; Easton, Dickinson State University; Darling, Lake Region State College; Van Horn, Mayville State University; Shirley, Minot State University; Richman, North Dakota State College of Science; Bresciani, North Dakota State University; Armacost, University of North Dakota; LaFave, Valley City State University; and Miller, Williston State College.

I beat COVID-19. How can I help someone else win the fight?

If you recovered from COVID-19, it means your immune system fought and won. That’s good news! It also means you have antibodies that could help others fight it off, too. That’s great news!

“There have already been a few cases in North Dakota where convalescent plasma treatment has proven beneficial for patients infected with COVID-19. This is a unique opportunity for someone who has recovered from COVID-19 to potentially save a life.” – Dr. Joan Connell, field medical officer with the NDDoH

Your plasma, within your blood, can be given directly to a patient battling COVID-19 or used to create other medicinal therapies to reduce the severity of COVID-19.

“Within 24 hours of the plasma therapy both patients had the breathing tubes removed and they made a miraculous recovery. We were able to go down on the ventilator, the oxygen and the amount of oxygen that they needed.” – Kristen Renner, CHI St. Alexius ICU Clinical Supervisor after discharging two of the first patients to receive convalescent plasma in North Dakota

Here are some questions to commonly asked questions:

Q: How do I know if I’m eligible to give convalescent plasma?

A: You need to provide documentation of either a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19 (by a positive nasal/oral swab test) OR a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Vitalant requires you to be symptom-free for at least 28 days before donating plasma. BioLife requires you to be symptom-free for at least 14 days. You will also need to meet other donor eligibility requirements.


Q: Will BioLife or Vitalant test me for the coronavirus?

A: No, these centers do not test for coronavirus. Do not attempt to donate blood or plasma if you are sick.


Q: What is plasma, and how do they take it?

A: Plasma is the clear, straw-colored liquid portion of blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are removed. It is collected much like donating blood, but the plasma is separated from your blood and then your blood is returned to your system. Watch a short video to understand the process.


Q: How often can I donate plasma?

A: The body replaces the plasma removed during the donation process quickly; therefore, healthy individuals can donate as often as twice in a seven-day period, with at least one day between donations.


Q: Will I get paid for donating plasma?

A: At BioLife, you will be compensated because your plasma will help to develop medicines and other clinical uses. Vitalant does not provide compensation because your donation will be directly transfused into a patient who needs it. Direct transfusion is not eligible for compensation, but it can provide immediate life-saving plasma to a patient in need.


Q: How long does it take to donate plasma?

A: On a donor’s first visit, the whole process, including medical screenings and the plasma donation, usually takes about two hours. Repeat donors generally spend approximately an hour in the center, with the average donation process taking around 45 minutes.


Q: At BioLife, what kinds of medicines and therapies will my plasma help develop?

A: BioLife Plasma Services utilizes Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited to maximize the individual and societal benefit of convalescent plasma in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Takeda is exploring whether select marketed therapies and molecules in its drug library could be viable candidates for the effective treatment of COVID-19. These efforts are at an early stage but being given a high priority within the company. You can learn more here.

Q: How do I get started with donating plasma?

A: Two locations in Bismarck, Vitalant and BioLife, are accepting plasma donations to help save lives.

  • To donate at Vitalant, begin at
  • To donate at BioLife, go to

Letter to Bismarck-Mandan Residents

To the Residents of Bismarck-Mandan:

For the past several months, we’ve all watched as COVID-19 spread throughout our community, leaving impacts both big and small. However, it’s only recently that those effects have become more severe, as the virus rapidly spreads in the community. And now, we need to respond.
There are countless ideas as to how we should do so, but there’s one that we all agree will make the biggest impact – masks.
While they won’t solve every aspect of this emergency, they’re the single most efficient and effective measure we can take. That’s because wearing a mask reduces the spread of the virus to others and if we collectively can do this, then we’ll slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.
If we don’t, then we risk…

  • Putting increased pressure on the health care system. We’re so fortunate in our area of the country to have access to the kind of health care resources that we do. The nurses, doctors and staff at CHI – St. Alexius and Sanford Health have responded in an incredible way, but we have to do our part. While the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, we want to make sure our hospitals continue to have the space they need to take care of us. It’s not just COVID-19 patients who are in the hospital. More than 80 percent of patients in the hospital are receiving care not related to COVID, such as recovering from a heart attack or stroke. Our hospitals have always answered the call when we’ve needed them. It’s time for us to do our part and help them during these unprecedented times by helping flatten the curve of infection.
  • Keeping students out of school. Last spring, when schools were closed, we saw the first signs of the adverse impacts these closures can have on our students. Being separated or isolated from their friends, not having activities and less time with their teachers are all things that have lasting effects. Plus, as more teachers and staff are quarantined or isolated, there is the real chance we won’t have enough to keep schools open. This will impact our higher education institutions in serving our post high school and adult students as they strive to achieve their higher education and professional career goals
  • More business closures. If we can’t control the spread of COVID-19, elected leaders will have no choice but to enact restrictions that will limit the size of gatherings, reduce business capacities and perhaps even close businesses. All in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and preserve hospital capacity. These closures or reductions in capacity will then trickle down to the employees themselves who will have less opportunity to provide for their families, reinvest in the community or support local businesses when possible.

Masks are not a cure-all; we know that. However, in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, social distancing and washing your hands, they are our best weapon against this virus.

It is with all of this in mind, that we as the community’s business, healthcare and education leaders support mask wearing. To preserve hospital capacity, to ensure students can go to school and to keep businesses open, wear a mask.

Dr. Mike LeBeau
President, Sanford Health – Bismarck Region

Kurt Schley
President, CHI St. Alexius Health

Dr. Jason Hornbacher
Superintendent, Bismarck Public Schools

Dr. Mike Bitz
Superintendent, Mandan Public Schools

Dr. Doug Jensen
President, Bismarck State College

Monsignor James Shea
President, University of Mary

Dr. Leander ‘Russ’ McDonald
President, United Tribes Technical College

Brian Eiseman
Chair, Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC Board of Directors

Val Weigel
Vice Chair, Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC Board of Director

State, hospital leaders committed to ensuring adequate bed capacity for COVID-19 patients

State officials met with leaders of Bismarck’s two largest hospital systems this weekend to discuss the availability of beds for COVID-19 patients as the state and Bismarck-Mandan area in particular continue to see a surge in coronavirus cases and an overall increase in COVID and non-COVID hospitalizations.

Interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke, Department of Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones and the Governor’s Office met with Dr. Michael LeBeau, president of Sanford Health’s Bismarck region, and Kurt Schley, president and CEO of CHI St. Alexius Health, to review current bed availability and plans to handle additional patients if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“As our state continues to see record numbers of COVID-19 cases, it’s more important than ever that we understand the challenges facing our hospitals and caregivers to ensure that there is a bed available for every patient who needs one,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “Working together, we can save lives and livelihoods, keep our schools and businesses open, protect those in our long-term care facilities and safeguard our health care workers who are so essential to the fight against COVID-19.”

“Meeting the needs of our patients and the communities we serve continues to be our highest priority at Sanford Health,” LeBeau said. “Like all hospitals across the state, we are experiencing high demand. We have capacity and staff to safely care for those who need us, while collaborating with partners across the state. Later this week, we will announce a plan to increase bed capacity at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck. An increasing number of people are coming to Sanford with a variety of needs, including patients with COVID-19. Investing in our communities to keep people safe is our top priority.”

“We are committed to patient care, and we have adjusted operations to accommodate an increase in both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Schley said. “People can have confidence that the health care system in North Dakota is working together to ensure that every patient who needs care receives the highest quality service through this pandemic.”

In a joint statement, LeBeau and Schley said, “We can all do our part to help reduce pressure on the health care system by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, avoiding large gatherings, getting a flu shot and following CDC and state guidance for isolating positive cases and quarantining close contacts.”

For more information on North Dakota’s COVID-19 response, visit or

Letter: Work together to protect vulnerable

I am 82 years old and, in today’s scary world, I am a member of a population known as “vulnerable with underlying health conditions.” Although some people feel that we should “just stay home,” you will still see us in the aisles at the grocery stores, sitting in appropriately-spaced chairs in the doctor’s offices and in line at the pharmacy picking up needed prescriptions.

When you do see us, we hope that you will think, just for a moment, what it must feel like to realize that the breath we are taking might be the cause of a life-threatening situation. Secondly, we ask that you exercise the personal responsibility that governmental leaders at all levels are recommending. Please just step back a few feet and consider wearing a mask in the future if you don’t already do so.

If we approach the virus with the attitude that we are all in this together, as we are reminded daily, maybe we can survive it together as well.

Lowell Jensen, Bismarck