• By Shalom Baer

Ward County coronavirus risk escalates to moderate, cases continue to rise across state

As of Sept. 25, Governor Doug Burgum elevated the COVID-19 risk levels for several North Dakota counties. Ward County’s risk level moved from low risk to moderate risk, or green to yellow, along with Cass, Dunn, Emmons, McKenzie, Richland, Sargent, and Stutsman counties. The risk levels are not completely uniform and consider several different factors. The most significant factors are active cases per 10 thousand, tests per 10 thousand, and 14-day average percentage of positive tests.

North Dakota saw few cases during the beginning of the pandemic. As of this writing, North Dakota has the second highest number in the country for most new cases per day. North Dakota had a total of 26,628 cases and 4,129 active cases; Ward County has had a total of 1,426 cases and currently has 266 active cases; 218 of all cases were related to Minot State, but active cases are down to 8. Before classes would go completely online, the governor would have to declare Ward County at high risk. One determination for high risk is a 10-14.99% positive test rate, while the North Dakota guidelines consider 5-9.99% positive test rates moderate risk.

Minot State has its own specific changes that run parallel to the state’s color coding.

What’s changed?

Physical distancing went from “encouraged” to “strongly encouraged.”

The way that employees interact with students and visitors has changed. When the risk level was low, departments simply followed physical distancing rules and wore masks. According the university’s Smart Restart, they now “limit all interactions with students and visitors, making use of alternative means of communications and services.”

The Student Center and its swimming pool is no longer open to the public and Wellness Center capacity is limited to 50% rather than 75%, the number under a low-risk level. In fact, the public is no longer welcome at university-sanctioned events unless explicitly invited.

Residence life and MSU Life have also seen some adjustments. Previously, in-person events were allowed if students observed social distancing. The moderate risk guidelines now discourage in-person events and encourage events to take place online, and MSU Life is discouraged from distributing items and giveaways at their events.

The Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services has shifted from limiting face-to-face visits to only seeing students who are emergent, and temperature checks are required at the door. Dining services is limited to 75% capacity. The semester started with dining capacity at normal.

One rule that has not changed is mask requirements. The university still requires face coverings “in a classroom or other instructional space, or when attending an event held indoors; in an indoor common space (lounges, hallways, elevators, study areas, bathrooms, the library, etc.); interacting with others; in the cafeteria, except when eating or drinking; and riding in a vehicle with one or more additional persons on university-sponsored business/activity.”

Up-to-date COVID-19 statistics of North Dakota are at https://www.health.nd.gov/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases

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