BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum announced Friday, May 15, he has moved the state from the high risk for contracting coronavirus to moderate risk and thus opened up the state to larger gatherings of people.

Guidelines would be released and finalized late Friday night or Saturday, but he said they basically would allow an events venue to be at 50% of its capacity starting immediately, up to 250 people.

It would mean as the summer rolls around that weddings, receptions, banquets, sporting events, concerts and other larger gatherings can be held.

Previously, music and entertainment venues, as well recreational and sports arenas, had been closed under previous orders.

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Burgum said proper distancing should be a priority in the venues with contactless payment systems.

The governor consulted with a variety of venue operators statewide, including the leaders of the Fargodome and the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, as well as state health officials to discuss the options.

Despite allowing the gatherings, Burgum said he would encourage the approximate 20% of North Dakotans who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus to perhaps consider staying away this summer.

As an example, he said, they may want to watch a wedding or reception online instead of attending the event.

Among those at high risk, he said, continue to be those over age 65 and people with underlying health conditions such as cancer or diabetes.

Burgum said the state was never at the "critical stage" in the pandemic, which would be above the high risk level where the state has been since March.

In the future, he said the state might move into the low risk phase where he thinks there could be even larger gatherings of people and then eventually to the "new normal."

The governor said he can move the state into the moderate risk because of an increase in testing, more contact tracing, continued isolation for those with the virus or at risk and with hospitals that are better equipped to handle the seriously ill. Hospitalizations dropped Thursday by three to 35 people.

There were 2,310 tests conducted statewide Thursday, with 1,404 being on previously untested individuals. This brings the total number of tests completed to 60,492 on 51,715 individuals.

Of the 51,715 individuals tested in North Dakota so far, 11,453 have been in Cass County, which continues to be the state's hot spot as the county for the first time reached more than 1,000 reported cases.

While the county accounts for 58% of statewide cases and 82% of new cases reported Thursday, it only accounts for 22% of tests.

Burgum said the state aims to test 4,000 people per day by the end of May, while boosting the Cass County test numbers and doing more of the retesting or "serial testing" at long-term care facilities, manufacturing plants or where an outbreak might occur.

He said there continues to be some counties in the state that still don't have any reported cases.

The North Dakota Department of Health said Friday that positive tests for COVID-19 in Cass County reached 1,032, with the 43 new cases on Thursday..

Two more North Dakotans died of the virus Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 42. Both of the individuals claimed by the virus were men with pre-existing conditions, one in his 40s in Grand Forks County and the other in his 90s in Cass County. Nationwide, 83,947 people have died of COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase of 1,701 from the prior day.

The Grand Forks County man is the third person in their 40s to die of the virus in North Dakota. Of the 42 deaths, 27 have been aged 80 or above, with nine aged 70-79, one aged 60-69, and two aged 50-59.

While 948 of the 1,761 positive cases in North Dakota have been in people aged 39 or younger, there have been zero deaths in that age group and 622 are reported to have recovered.

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