Gov. Doug Burgum raised the risk level for Stutsman County related to the coronavirus from low to moderate Wednesday morning. Local officials were notified by phone prior to the announcement by the governor during his press conference.
Stutsman County was one of 12 counties where the risk level was increased. There were three counties where the risk level was decreased. All changes in the risk level assessments go into effect Friday, Sept. 25.
The North Dakota Smart Restart guidebook defines moderate risk as "(a)level of heightened exposure risk and transmission (that) is controlled in these areas." In the color guide for the risks, Stutsman moved from green (low) to yellow (moderate).
The guide calls for testing, contact tracing, social distancing and other precautions in areas listed as moderate risk.
"The main difference is the capacity level of restaurants and bars," said Nicole Meland, Stutsman County auditor and chief operating officer. "The capacity drops from 75% to 50% of normal capacity."
Robin Iszler, unit administrator for Central Valley Health District, said the new risk level also reduces the maximum number of people at any gathering to 250.
"From a Central Valley Health perspective, we were anticipating a color change at the county level based on the higher number of positive tests," Iszler said.
Iszler said the positivity rate over the last two weeks for Stutsman County was 7.16%, as reported by the North Dakota Department of Health. The target set by the department is 5%.
Other requirements in the Smart Restart guidebook for moderate risk level include all employers screen employees before each shift, encourage work from home if possible, closure of blackjack and gaming tables, closure of dance floors, strict adherence to hygiene guidelines and the cancellation of any event or activity where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, said the change in risk level will change some operational aspects of the school district such as cleaning and wearing face masks.
"Our educational plan won't change," he said. "Now, we will require masks instead of expecting everyone to wear a mask. That is not really a problem, a high percentage were already wearing masks."
Lech said the education plan in place at the beginning of the school year will continue. That plan has elementary school students in the classroom five days per week and middle school and high school students on a hybrid plan combining in-classroom education and distance learning.
One place that will see an impact is the Jamestown Civic Center.
"Now that we are into the moderate zone it decreases our occupancy level to 250 people," said Pam Fosse, manager of the Civic Center. "We'll need to monitor the number of people in the building during any event."
Fosse said some organizers may cancel events if they do not think they will be profitable under the new restrictions.
"With that said, the governor can increase the numbers or reduce the risk level in the future," she said.
Organizers of the Stock Car Stampede, scheduled for this weekend at the Jamestown Speedway, said they plan on continuing the event with the precautions they have had in place all summer.
"We've been paying close attention and following the guidelines," said Tim Baldwin, owner of the Speedway. "... we keep things clean and do the best we can and expect people to do what they can to keep people safe."
Mike Nowatzki, press secretary for Gov. Doug Burgum, said the state guidelines always urge event organizers to work with local health officials to determine the safest plan for large-scale events.
Iszler said Central Valley Health District will continue to provide testing and work at identifying possible hot spots.
"We'll continue to work on education," she said. "Keep hitting on face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing."