The North Dakota Department of Health and local organizations are moving forward with procedures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the area and monitor people who may have been exposed.
"The risk for COVID-19 (the scientific name for current coronavirus) in North Dakota is low but it is not zero," said Tim Wiedrich, section chief for health resources and response for the North Dakota Department of Health, during a press conference Friday.
The risk has prompted Ave Maria Village to restrict some people from visiting the nursing home: people who have recently traveled to China and who have symptoms of respiratory illness.
"We're taking precautions very similar to influenza," said Tonie Lagodinski, assistant administrator at Ave Maria Village. "The signage on the door explains to people who can come in to visit."
While the precautions at Ave Maria Village mention travel to China, the symptoms listed also include fever and cough, symptoms of the coronavirus and influenza, and difficulty breathing, a symptom of the coronavirus.
"influenza is continuing to spread," said Kirby Kruger, director of the Division of Disease Control for the North Dakota Department of Health during the press conference. "It is trending to record levels."
Kruger said the Department of Health is continuing to follow plans it had developed to deal with a "wide-scale transmission of a communicable disease." As part of the plan, the Department of Health has already briefed public health agencies and medical providers on what is known about COVID-19 and what safety precautions health care professionals should use when dealing with patients who may be infected.
Directives from the Health Department also include changes to the questions people will be asked if they call 911 requesting an ambulance, said Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.
"These would be unusual situations," Bergquist said. "If someone calls with breathing problems, coughing, fever or sickness, we are to ask a variation of the question 'Have you traveled to a country with confirmed cases of the coronavirus?'"
Followup questions could include if they have been in contact with someone with the coronavirus. That information would then be furnished to the ambulance crew, Bergquist said.
Next week, the Department of Health will begin working with schools and prisons in North Dakota on preparedness plans.
A memo from the Department of Health to schools, universities and child care facilities in North Dakota on Feb. 6 said any individual who had traveled in China in the past 14 days was to be excluded from those facilities. The memo also went on to say schools were to set their own policy regarding staff or faculty that is ill and to continue to follow regular cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces.
"We have currently shared information with building administrators from the N.D. Department of Health related to school expectations, cleaning practices, and guidance for employers," wrote Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, in an email. "We have also begun preliminary internal discussions related to how varying situations could impact the normal school process and potential responses. This includes examining opportunities to leverage existing technology in the event of a school closure."
While the precautions continue, Wiedrich said there are no cases of coronavirus in North Dakota. The Department of Health is monitoring eight individuals who have returned from China in the past two weeks. None show symptoms of the disease. All report to the Department of Health daily with medical information and have agreed to "social distancing," meaning they are limiting activities and staying home as much as possible.
Staying home when sick is one way to slow the spread of the disease, said Robin Iszler, administrator for the Central Valley Health District in Jamestown.
"People need to have the necessary supplies if they get ill," she said, referring to prescription medications and food. "That is a good idea whether the problem is a flood, blizzard or a disease like this."
Wiedrich said other precautions include hand washing, avoiding travel to countries where the disease is prevalent, not touching your face if your hands are contaminated and avoiding contact with people that are ill.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for the coronavirus, Kruger said. People receive support treatment such as hydration, pain relief and nutrition.
"The recovery rate varies with where the patient is treated in the world," he said. "I'd estimate that something like 98% of the people treated outside of China will recover."