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Good news for Pierce County COVID numbers

Few changes in local health policies

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 3, 2020

The North Dakota Department of Health moved Pierce County into the blue, or “new normal” category on Sept. 23 on its color-coded scale measuring risk levels for contracting COVID-19.

In a morning press conference, Gov. Doug Burgum placed Pierce and neighboring Rolette County in the category, citing a low number of positive cases.

The changes in guidelines went into effect Friday, Sept. 25.

Although placement in the blue category means some restrictions on public gathering and movement will be lifted, Rugby public schools, health providers and public health agencies are still following guidelines such as wearing masks to limit the spread of infection.

A page featuring a color graph representing infection risks at ndresponse.gov, the website of the North Dakota Department of Health, explained, “Blue means (a) community is open with continued monitoring among high-risk individuals and sources of congregate community spread.”

Under the blue designation, state guidelines on retail stores, hotels and restaurants no longer limit capacity, but recommend they “operate under heightened hygiene & cleaning standards. Monitor employees for symptoms.”

Lake Region District Health Unit Nurse Samantha Wentz said, “Right now, Pierce County only has two active cases, so that’s what played into us moving into the blue phase. Blue is new normal. We hear the term ‘new normal’ a lot, but we still have to social distance wear masks, wash hands, stay home when sick, all of those things, just so we don’t get an increase of numbers like the rest of North Dakota’s experiencing right now.”

“I know that according to the blue new normal it has some changes with capacity, so it says that restaurants and large mass gatherings can be at normal capacity. When we were in the green, it was 75 percent,” Wentz noted, adding, “My main message I would like to get out there is we still need to be practicing what we’ve been learning – social distancing, mask wearing, staying home when sick and hand washing so that helps keep our numbers down.”

A statement by Michelle Ehrman, infection prevention control officer at Heart of America Medical Center, said, “At this time there will be no changes to any protocols currently in place at any of HAMC’s facilities,” Michelle Ehrman, Infection Prevention Control Officer.”

Another statement emailed to the Tribune from HAMC read, “At this time, we will continue to follow the recommendations given to us by NDDOH for Long Term Care guidelines.”

Kelsey Siegler of Pierce County Emergency Services also said guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community would not change. “We are still encouraging the CDC recommended non-pharmaceutical techniques to help control the spread of the illness,” Siegler said in an emailed statement.

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff said the change to a blue level wouldn’t cause any changes for schools in the district.

“Although Pierce County’s current risk level is blue as declared today by Governor Burgum, according to our approved Health and Safety Plan, Blue and Green Levels have the same level of preventative measures,” McNeff said in a written statement.

“Rugby Public School District will continue to operate with the health and safety protocols that have been in place since the start of school. This includes the following: requiring the use of face coverings in communal spaces (hallways, commons, etc.) and in classrooms when they cannot socially distance, maintaining current fan restrictions at all extracurricular events, maintaining cohorts of students at Ely Elementary, and block scheduling at RHS to reduce the mixing of students, K-6 breakfast and lunch in classrooms, additional lunchtimes for 7-12 with social distancing, and Friday will continue to be a virtual learning day for students.”

“It is important that we all continue to do our part to keep our infection rates low,” McNeff added. “Our plan is working, and we ask for your continued support. The district’s health and safety committee will begin reviewing our county and school data and begin exploring adjustments that need to be made to return to a five-day school week at RPSD.”

“No timetable has been set for a return to a five-day school week,” McNeff emphasized. “Regardless of risk level changes by the state, we see health and safety protocols remaining in effect for the foreseeable future.”

Wentz said most Pierce County residents won’t experience “too much of a change” from when health guidelines put the county in the more restrictive green, or low-risk category. “But,” she added, “We have been doing good so far, so hopefully, we’ll keep it up.”

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