Healthcare workers who test positive for coronavirus but remain asymptomatic may continue to work in North Dakota’s COVID 19 units as hospitals across the state reach 100% utilization.
At a press conference on coronavirus on Monday, Republican Governor Doug Burgum announced that the state has amended a regulation so that infected but asymptomatic health workers can continue to work in hospitals due to a severe shortage of personnel.
Burgum said that the extraordinary change was made by provisional state health official Dirk Wilke and at the request of hospital administrators.
“This only applies to positive COVID-19 health workers who have no symptoms, and they are only allowed to work with patients in COVID-19 units who have the virus,” Burgum said during the meeting.
The new measure is in line with the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for staff shortages and is considered relatively low-risk because only patients with COVID-19 can be treated by doctors and nurses who have the virus.
Burgum added that medical personnel suspected of having COVID-19 will receive a rapid test that can provide results in as little as 15 minutes to relieve those who would otherwise have had to wait days for their lab results.
In North Dakota, the number of COVID-19 cases has risen dramatically in the past month, doubling from 5,000 to more than 10,000. According to the CDC, the state reported the most COVID cases and deaths per capita of the population last week.
“We know that in the next two to three weeks we could face a situation in our state where hospital capacity would be severely limited … in some parts of the state we are already seeing this,” Burgum said during the press conference.
He added that only about 20% of hospital patients throughout North Dakota are admitted for complications due to COVID-19, but that patients with the virus are a greater burden on staff because hospitals must employ nurses with full protective equipment who cannot easily move between units.
The governor also said the state will hire emergency technicians and paramedics to perform COVID-19 testing operations so that nurses who currently perform the tests can work in the hospitals.
On Monday, there were 254 hospital admissions and 10,865 positive cases in North Dakota.
Since March, a total of 644 North Dakotans have died of the virus, and the state has an average of nearly 10 deaths per day in October and November.
Burgum pleaded with North Dakotanians to be vigilant about the rise of the virus and to contribute to maintaining hospital capacity by wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.
“One thing that cannot be disputed is that our hospitals are under enormous pressure at the moment,” he said. “You could make a difference when it comes to maintaining that capacity, be it for a family member, someone who is older, or for you,” he added.