The North Dakota National Guard’s support of COVID-19 testing and vaccination operations will end March 17. Gov. Doug Burgum activated the National Guard’s to help with the pandemic response two years ago.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Thursday, March 10, the state will pull back on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic as infection numbers fall.
Going forward, the state will treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease, meaning the virus is still present but the case count is more stable, Burgum said in a news release.
The North Dakota National Guard’s support of COVID-19 testing and vaccination operations will end March 17. Burgum activated the National Guard to help with the pandemic response two years ago.
Starting next week, the state Department of Health will begin reporting COVID-19 infection data weekly instead of daily.
Burgum said the emergence of COVID-19 treatment and prevention options allows North Dakota to take a new approach to pandemic response.
“As we prepare to shift into a new phase and learn to live with this virus, we have resources and tools that were not available two years ago,” the Republican governor said. “Research, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, antivirals and at-home test kits have changed what we know about the virus and how we respond in our communities.”
However, State Health Officer Dr. Nizar Wehbi said the state will maintain its pandemic response capacity in case another surge or variant emerges.
North Dakota’s COVID-19 case count has fallen sharply since a winter spike driven by the highly infectious omicron variant. The state recorded more than 12,000 active cases in late January, but that number sat at fewer than 400 on Thursday. Over that same span, hospitalizations have come down from nearly 200 to 56.
Despite state-backed campaigns promoting the vaccine, only 54.5% of residents are considered fully vaccinated, putting North Dakota tenth to last in inoculation rate nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
Democratic House Minority Leader Josh Boschee said the governor’s decision looked like a prudent move, given the reality of the state’s inability to eradicate the virus through mitigation measures advised by public health experts.
The Fargo Democrat called the announcement “a recognition of what many of us know:” that COVID-19 is a disease that will be “with us for a long time or forever” because of resistance to pandemic measures that have prevented the state from doing away with the virus.
“It’s our new normal,” he said.
Health experts like Wehbi recommend vaccination for residents 5 and up, including those who have previously recovered from COVID-19. In North Dakota, people who received the vaccine and booster dose are 3.7 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are not fully vaccinated.
Since the pandemic first hit North Dakota in March 2020, the state has reported 2,218 COVID-19 deaths, including 1,035 fatalities in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Wehbi urged North Dakotans to continue staying home when sick and consider adding at-home COVID-19 tests to their medicine cabinets.