North Dakota healthcare workers are now permitted to continue treating COVID-19 patients, even if they test positive for the disease

Stephen Yang/Getty ImagesNorth Dakota Governor Doug Burgum speaks during a press conference in February.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday announced that healthcare workers with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 can continue working in hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients as the state grapples with surging hospital admissions and a lack of medical staff.
  • The order comes as hospitals reach their capacity in the state due to a mix of COVID-19 patients and other patients who deferred treatment due to the pandemic, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
  • Burgum moved all counties in the state to the orange, high-risk designation on Monday, one day before North Dakota reported 30 new deaths – its largest single-day total since the pandemic began.
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Healthcare workers in North Dakota will, due to a “severe” shortage of workers, be permitted to continue working in hospitals and nursing homes to treat COVID-19 patients even if they themselves contract the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Gov. Doug Burgum announced at a press conference Monday.

Burgum said Monday that Dirk Wilke, the interim state health officer, had amended a state order to allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to continue working in hospitals to treat patients for the coronavirus, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

The governor said in the conference that since the healthcare workers with positive cases would be working only with COVID-19 patients, the risk of further transmission was limited. CDC crisis guidelines allow hospitals facing staffing shortages to permit COVID-19 staff to treat patients. In a worst-case scenario, the federal guidelines also permit a healthcare worker with COVID-19 to treat a person who has not tested positive for it.

The move comes as hospitals in the state reach their maximum capacity and have to implement their “surge” protocols, the governor said, and some hospitals will suspend elected surgeries to meet the demand. The current surge in North Dakota hospitals is related to a rise in coronavirus cases and the result of deferred treatment of other conditions due to the pandemic, the Herald said.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 16% of all COVID-19 tests administered in the state of North Dakota have returned a positive result over the past seven days. So far, there have been at least 55,458 confirmed cases and 644 deaths from the virus in North Dakota. On Tuesday, the state announced 30 new deaths, the highest single-day increase the state has experienced so far in the pandemic.

Burgum, a Republican who has been in office since 2016, on Monday moved all of the state’s counties to the orange, high-risk designation. While several counties meet the requirements for the highest level, or red, designation, Burgum has avoided moving counties to the highest designation because it would require businesses to close to stem the spread, the Herald reported.

The governor also on Monday said the state was intending to hire emergency medical technicians to allow nurses currently working on administering tests for COVID-19 to instead work in hospitals. Burgum has so far refused calls to issue a statewide mask mandate but has recently supported local mandates in the state, according to the report.

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