When it comes to the coronavirus in North Dakota, one size should not fit all. Counties such as Adams, Billings, Griggs and Kidder have a grand total of zero known infections. Meanwhile, Cass County has the highest infection rate in the state. With 23% of the state’s population, Cass County has an astonishing 76% of North Dakota’s COVID-19 deaths and 79% of the state’s active COVID-19 cases.
This should not be a huge surprise. Adams, Billings, Griggs and Kidder counties are sparsely populated. Cass County is the state’s most populous county. The virus is spreading faster in densely populated Fargo than sparsely populated Hettinger.
Thus, COVID-19 restrictions should be tighter in Cass County than in Adams County. With proper social distancing and precautions, Adams County businesses should be open. In Cass County, where infections are surging, large gatherings should be banned, salons and bars should be closed, and restaurants should only be open for takeout orders. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has opened up parts of upstate New York, but still has tight restrictions in hard hit New York City.
I feel terrible for the hardships that local businesses are suffering, but in the long run they will be better off with restrictions now. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that if we re-open too soon, there will likely be more deadly outbreaks, which would set back the economic recovery. The businesses can only truly succeed when we reduce the death and infection rates, and the virus is under control.
Skeptics say that many of the Fargo-Moorhead cases are in nursing homes, so grandma and grandpa don’t count, and the rest of us should be OK. The trouble is, those working in nursing homes can get infected, pass it on to their families, who then pass it on to customers at their favorite bar, who will then pass it on to their hair stylists. The other myth is that young people don’t get the virus.
All this brings us to Mary (not her real name), a 20-year-old college student living in Fargo and working at a Fargo nursing home. Mary is one of about 700 people in North Dakota under 30 to be infected with COVID-19. Her parents are also infected.
“I started having headaches, body aches, chills and a fever,” Mary said. “I felt lousy. I could not hold myself up. I was too weak.”
To make matters worse, her employer gave her a guilt trip. “They were angry I came down with the virus, not supportive, and blamed me for it,” Mary said.
Susmita Gurung, 18, a senior at Fargo South High and a cashier at a big box store in Fargo, was also infected, and spent two days in the hospital.
“I think I got it at work. It’s a very crowded area,” Susmita said. “I’m scared to go back to work. I’m afraid I will get it again.”
So, in Cass County you’re more likely to get the virus, be ridiculed for getting it, and be scared to work. It’s time to treat Cass County differently than the counties without infections.