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Dakotas' COVID Spike: Not Just an Urban Problem


Wednesday, September 9, 2020   

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The Midwest has seen higher levels of COVID-19 activity in recent weeks, and that includes North and South Dakota. And health officials say all parts of the region need to be mindful of community spread.

The Dakotas now top the nation for new novel coronavirus infections, based on their seven-day averages per 100,000 people.

Shelly Ten Napel, CEO of Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas, said that's a more important measuring tool than just the raw numbers for each county.

"You see some of the more rural counties really being the hardest hit," said Ten Napel. "And so, I think that per-population number is really important, because it shows the true spread of the epidemic."

Ten Napel said rural America needs to get past the mindset that only larger cities are affected by the virus, as was the case back in the spring. She said examining different metrics can better inform health agencies and residents about where surges are happening, and how best to respond.

With a spike in cases, Ten Napel said her organization, which provides support to community health centers, has seen higher demand. That includes testing efforts, especially on the North Dakota side.

She sees a silver lining to the surge being seen in this part of the country, however.

"We're later to have this emerging trend," said Ten Napel. "And so, we do have more tools in our toolbox around testing capacity and contact tracing."

But leaders in some Midwestern states have been criticized for not issuing statewide mask mandates or other policies to help slow the spread of the virus. Governors in some of those states have said it should be left up to individuals to make the right choice.

However, North Dakota's Doug Burgum has strongly encouraged face coverings and to not have the issue politicized, despite not issuing an order.

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