Stutsman County has 49 new cases of coronavirus, the North Dakota Department of Health reported Sunday, Sept. 6, a record high for a single day in the county. The county had the second-highest COVID-19 cases reported Sunday in the state, with Burleigh County having the most at 78.
Most of the Stutsman cases - 41 - were reported from a public testing event on Friday at the Jamestown Civic Center parking lot, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator, Central Valley Health District. The other eight cases were from testing at other locations such as clinics, she said.
There were 400 people who attended the public testing event and people had to be turned away, Iszler said.
Stutsman County had a previous high of 29 cases reported in a single day, which occurred last week. There are now 160 active positive cases in Stutsman County, according to the health department. The county's cumulative positivity rate is 5.20%; the state's daily positivity rate is 6.28%
“Central Valley (Health) is concerned about the rising numbers," Iszler said. "... people need to take this seriously and start doing some COVID prevention measures in order to keep our schools and our businesses running in Stutsman County."
Iszler said while some of the positives are attributed to some University of Jamestown students there are still many positives in the community from social gatherings.
"What we're seeing is that the more people tend to gather together the virus is just spreading real quickly ... in those groups," she said. "The other thing we're just seeing is people have mild symptoms and they're going out when they're sick. And it starts out as, maybe just a headache, or a mild symptom, feels like sinuses, but then it doesn't go away. They continue to feel sick. They finally decide to stay home or go get tested and then they turn out to be positive, so during that time they've been infecting others."
Iszler noted Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference last week that he's going to look at the positivity rates on a two-week basis and then make decisions on risk levels at that time. Burgum raised the risk level to yellow for eight counties on Thursday, including Barnes County, which is just east of Stutsman. Stutsman is currently at a green level, the second-lowest level.
"So if we get moved up to yellow that impacts large events and restaurant capacity as well," Iszler said. "Even without the color changes, all these positives are impacting our businesses. You hear through the grapevine about various restaurants that are having to close or their business being impacted because their employees are positive or being identified as close contacts and so then it's hard for businesses to continue to operate when they don't have enough staff to do so."
She said more and more people will be testing positive if people don't do the preventive measures that they have been doing since March. Businesses, schools and families are impacted by increasing cases, she said.
"Businesses, if they don't have employees to work because they're sick or close contacts, they're going to have to close, so it's going to impact our community based on people being sick," she said. "And then it could impact our schools, having to go to virtual learning ... which then impacts families more. Because then kids aren't in school, they're having to be at home and people have to work and have their kids at home. It's a domino effect."
Iszler believes people have COVID fatigue but while people may not see everything going on in the health care system in the state the increasing cases are impacting the system. She said large hospitals in the state are getting more people who are sick for a longer period of time and have staff being affected as well. But she said there is hope on the horizon that a vaccine is going to be available in the fall.
She said Central Valley Health can't stress enough if people aren't feeling well, have been to any large group gathering or been identified as a close contact or around others who are positive to consider that COVID is the first reason why they may not be feeling well. She encourages people to adhere to the guidelines to help prevent the spread of the illness.
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich could not immediately be reached for comment. Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, said the increasing cases reported Sunday are "concerning." He said he thought people were more aware and he sees people wearing masks.
"I don't know where we're headed here but it's not the direction we certainly want to go," he said of the increase in numbers Sunday. "I don't know what the total answer is, you can't really shut down the whole economy and crawl in a hole and cover yourself up either ..."
Polly Peterson, president of the University of Jamestown, confirmed there have been positive cases in the student body. She said the university has encouraged student testing and believes about 80 percent of the campus has tested; with recent testing, the number of cases is still being compiled.
"We do have some positive cases, we knew we would," she said. "We planned for that, spent a great deal of time this summer running through protocols in the event we would have some positive cases. We're exercising those protocols and working through what is best for the students to make sure that they can still be able to get to class. The university invested substantially in providing AVI (audiovisual) equipment so that our students can go to class whether they're positive or a direct contact. ... They can 'Zoom' into the classroom and take classes that way, as if they're in the classroom. They're still with their classmates they're just, wherever they are, whether they're isolating, self-isolating or quarantining."
She said being a small campus, the university can work closely with contact tracers and help identify a direct contact when someone tests positive. So they have been able to isolate students and then quarantine those considered direct contacts. The university has a location where students can self-isolate, isolate and quarantine.
"Each situation is a little bit different and we work very closely to determine how to best handle each situation," she said.
Peterson said there has been "great collaboration" between the community and university regarding testing, specifically thanking Central Valley Health District for its work.
"This pandemic has carried on a lot longer than we expected," she said.
"All of us are in this together, we're doing our best," she said. "... I hope there's a vaccine soon. If we can all get through this and have a vaccine soon ... we're pretty appreciative of the community support in having our students back."