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Pierce County government, organizations address sharp rise in COVID-19 cases

By Sue Sitter - | Nov 14, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT A sign on the door of city hall advises visitors to make appointments to do business or leave payments in a drop box. The building closed to the public when Pierce County moved from the blue “New Normal” risk category in October.

Pierce County saw its sharpest rise since March in COVID-19 cases the first week of November with 90 active positive infections and a death total that rose to four.

Data from the North Dakota Department of Health put the 14-day rolling average percentage of positive cases for Pierce County at 13.3 percent Oct. 30. The number decreased to 12.9 percent by Nov. 9. Officials reported the first death of a Pierce County resident while infected with COVID Oct. 24. Three more such deaths followed between Nov. 3 and Nov. 5. All deaths were reported in patients in their seventies and eighties.

Local measures went in place Nov. 2 to address the rise, including a mask mandate enacted immediately following a regular meeting of the Rugby City Council.

Rugby Public Schools reported no immediate changes to their school restart plan.

In a statement released on social media Nov. 6, Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Michael McNeff said, “We know we’ve had an increase in COVID positives and quarantines, but we believe it is critical to continue our current model (4 day in-person and 1 day virtual). The high school block schedule, virtual Friday, masks, and distancing continue to help reduce the number of quarantines.”

McNeff added, “We are coordinating with local public health and city leaders to make sure we are doing our part in keeping our students, staff, and community safe. We ALL have an individual responsibility to get this back under control.”

The Rugby High School Panthers continued their post-season tournament play on their home court for regionals, something their coach, Jessica Fritz said hadn’t happened in years.

Tournament organizers set strict limits on ticket sales for the game and encouraged fans to view the game via live stream on the North Dakota High School Activities Association’s website instead of attending in person.

Organizers also enforced mask wearing for fans and non-participants, announcing play would stop if the mask policy were not followed.

Rugby Mayor Sue Steinke said, ” City hall has been closed to walk in traffic ever since Pierce County was moved to green (low risk, from the blue ‘New Normal’ category).”

Steinke said people wishing to access services from city hall must do so by appointment. A drop box is available for bills and other forms needed for city business.

Steinke said her “recommendations would be to follow the Pierce County health recommendations put out by (Pierce County Lake Region District Health Unit Nurse) Samantha Wentz.”

Wentz said guidelines for working and doing business in Pierce County’s higher COVID risk level may be found at www.ndresponse.gov Kelsey Siegler of Pierce County Emergency Services said a plan drawn up last spring to address the global pandemic remains in place.

In a written statement, Siegler said, “The County’s plan, as a document does not really change. Our goal is to slow the spread by following the guidance provided through health resources. However, with our increase in COVID19 cases our local and state resources are being stressed. This is putting a higher emphasis on personal responsibility and smarter choices.”

“Many messages have been released lately from local leaders and responders advising the public on the importance now, more than ever to follow the CDC recommendations of face coverings, hand hygiene and social distancing. This is coming as a request from our hospital, our local health unit, our schools and many other agencies,” Siegler noted. “The ND Smart Restart Guidelines do indicate capacity changes in several industries including Bars, Restaurants, Food Service, Events and other Gatherings of 50% capacity and not to exceed 100 people. The guidelines for all industries are available on www.ndresponse.gov. All risk categories do include face coverings, hand washing and social distancing.”

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