FARGO — The spread of coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes, is a situation that's changing day-by-day, even hour-by-hour around the world and in our region.

As of March 10, 2020, the North Dakota Department of Health had tested eight people for the virus; six tested negative and two test results were pending.

The Minnesota Department of Health had tested approximately 135 people, with three of them testing positive for COVID-19.

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Readers asked The Forum to find answers from a local expert to specific questions. We did so, and added a few of our own.

Here's information from Brenton Nesemeier, an epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health, who is based in Fargo.

-How are people tested for Coronavirus Disease or COVID-19?

It starts as a conversation between the patient, their doctor and the North Dakota Department of Health. If testing is deemed necessary, the patient is swabbed both in their nose and throat, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

"No asymptomatic people are being tested," Nesemeier said. Only those who have symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath are being tested.

-Is there a single local facility designated for coronavirus testing?

All medical facilities in the F-M area are equipped to gather specimens, but the North Dakota Department of Health actually conducts the tests. The health department is working with a courier service to transport specimens. The testing is happening daily, and results should be available within 24 hours. The N.D. Department of Health website has the latest numbers.

-Where should people go if they are very ill and suspect COVID-19? Is there a particular hospital best equipped in this situation?

The emergency rooms at Sanford, Essentia and the VA Medical Center in Fargo are all equipped for these situations. A phone call to the facility before arrival would be helpful. Let them know about any recent travel, even domestic, and about possible exposure to someone who may be infected.

-If a person is too ill to drive or lives alone, what is the best way to get help?

Call 911 or a healthcare facility. All Emergency Medical Services personnel in the FM area are trained in the appropriate protocol for responding to possible cases, Nesemeier said.

-Is it necessary to stockpile supplies? If so, what should people make sure they have on hand?

If there is community spread of COVID-19 and people have to self-isolate, they should have enough on-hand for 14 days. That includes food, medical supplies and prescription medications. People who routinely drink tap water don’t need to stock up on water because our water supply would not be in question. However, anyone who relies on bottled water might want to stock up. For people with pets, make sure you have enough pet food on hand.

-Are handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer equally effective?

With handwashing, friction allows you to get to more areas that could contain contaminants, including under fingernails and around the base of the fingers. Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, as long as it is at least 60% alcohol.

-For people living in multiplex buildings, how should garbage, laundry, and mail be handled if cases spread community-wide?

“We are looking at close contacts, not casual contacts or someone you pass in the hall,” Nesemeier said. If such a situation arises, the state health department would work with those patients on a case by case basis, he said.

-Should I stay away from large crowds to avoid getting sick?

If you are elderly or immunocompromised, consider deferring your travel plans and avoiding mass gatherings. "Unless community spread is detected, we aren’t recommending people avoid those settings,” Nesemeier said, in reference to otherwise healthy people.

-Where’s the best place for information on coronavirus and COVID-19?

The CDC, North Dakota Department of Health or Minnesota Department of Health websites are the best spots to go for information. Avoid misinformation from clickbait on social media, Nesemeier said.

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