July 21, 2020


By Neal A. Shipman

Farmer Editor

Now that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota Public Instruction superintendent, have given the green light for the state’s public schools to reopen this fall, it would be a good idea for the North Dakota Dept. of Health to provide more specific information of where people who have been identified as testing positive for COVID-19 are located.
Currently, the state health department updates its website daily to reflect the number of people who have been tested, the number of people who have tested positive and negative, and in what county those people reside. For example, as of Monday, July 20, McKenzie County has had 1,968 people test for COVID-19. Of that number, 52 tested positive with 32 of those people now recovered. That means that there are 20 active cases in the county, a number that will continue to change.
But just where do those current 20 people who have COVID-19 live becomes an issue when a school system is beginning to make their plans on how to reopen schools. Do those people live in Watford City, Alexander or Mandaree? And do those people have school-age children or have they had close contact with children who could be attending school this fall?
Those are fair questions that school boards and school administrators should be asking of the state as they begin making their plans to reopen classes this fall. After all, hypothetically, if all of the 20 active cases were in Watford City or Alexander, local school officials may take a much harder look at their options.
But so far, to the best of my knowledge, the state is not sharing that kind of specific information with anyone. And that is wrong.
The governor is correct that the vast majority of North Dakotans are taking the need to be safe and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus seriously. That is why so many North Dakotans have taken the COVID-19 test voluntarily when offered. And that is why the state’s number of cases and deaths are relatively low compared to other states.
The last thing that anyone wants to see is for our schools to reopen this fall and then be forced to go back to some form of distant learning because of an outbreak of COVID-19.
As part of the governor’s reopening guidelines, school districts around the state are going to have to be able to prove that they can provide a safe, high-quality educational experience for all students, staff and to the community. To be able to do that, they need to have accurate information from the state health department that will allow them to adjust their plans on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
And that information needs to start with at least knowing in what city those testing positive for COVID-19 live.