ND needs action from residents, governor on pandemic

JSSP Letter to Editor

By Karen K. Ehrens and Kelly Buettner-Schmidt, North Dakota Public Health Association Governing Board

The North Dakota Public Health Association (NDPHA) is a multidisciplinary organization, made up of individuals working in broad areas of public health from nursing to nutrition, policy and planning, emergency and environmental health, American Indian public health, students and teachers. Our mission is “to improve, promote, and protect health for residents of North Dakota.” Our members are leading prevention and education efforts, and carrying out testing, tracing, quarantine, and isolation efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We are alarmed and extremely concerned as North Dakota’s rates of infection, number of hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise even as our members are working harder and longer.

The NDPHA Governing Board recently sent requests to the governor of North Dakota. As public health emergency declarations are in effect from the global to the state level, the NDPHA requested that the governor use available powers, along with connections across states and across the federal government, to continue to bring resources to our state. We need action not only from public health and health care professionals but from every single person in North Dakota.

The NDPHA asks for a statewide mandated wearing of masks. If “personal responsibility” were enough to change the trajectory of the virus’ impact on North Dakota’s people, our rates of infection and numbers of illnesses and deaths would be leveling off or decreasing. Unless more intense actions are taken, more of our people will become sick, experience long-lasting impacts and die. There is evidence from Arizona and Kansas to show that these actions as part of comprehensive mitigation efforts (including physical distancing, hand-washing, avoiding large crowds, strategic testing, rapid isolation of infected people and supportive quarantine for people who need to isolate) reduce the rates of infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by up to 50 percent.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus does not recognize city, county or state boundaries. The more that we can work together in getting the virus under control, the more quickly our economy can resume. President of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Neel Kashkari noted, “Real, lasting economic recovery and growth start with controlling the virus (until effective vaccine/treatment).” We can help our state with economic recovery only if we are using all the tools available to us.


The NDPHA also respectfully requested that the governor not submit budget reductions in any form for the North Dakota Department of Health or any funding that flows to local public health units in the coming biennium. This public health crisis is placing an unprecedented strain on our local public health employees and infrastructure, and additional resources and personnel are needed to carry out these actions to protect the health of residents.

Ehrens lives in Bismarck; Buettner-Schmidt lives in Fargo.

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