BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health confirmed the state's first and second cases of community spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, on Wednesday, March 18.

A woman in her 30s and a female between 10-19, both from Morton County, have contracted the virus despite having no history of travel and no contact with any person who has been confirmed to have COVID-19. This means they likely caught it from someone with the illness in their community who has not yet been tested. The woman has not been hospitalized and is currently recovering at home.

The health department will now try to identify, contact and monitor others who came into close contact with the two people while they were symptomatic, according to a news release.

Morton County is in south-central North Dakota and has about 31,000 residents, most of whom live in or near Mandan.

The announcement of the new cases mean the state now has seven confirmed cases of the disease that has caused a global health crisis.

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The five previous cases include:

  • Two Ward County men in their 60s
  • A Cass County woman in her 20s
  • A Burleigh County man in his 50s
  • A Burleigh County woman in her 20s

Four of the cases were announced Tuesday, and all of the five of the people who contracted the illness had recently traveled to areas impacted by the virus.

Burgum announced at a press conference Wednesday that the state is strongly recommending, but not mandating, that movie theaters, gyms, restaurants, bars and other businesses that attract members of the public close during the outbreak to improve "social distancing." He said the recommendation does not necessarily apply to manufacturing plants or other businesses that have only employees in the workplace because they can self-impose strict rules and screening standards.

The governor said the state would reevaluate daily the potential for mandatory closures of businesses throughout the state. For now, it will remain the decision of local governments and individual employers whether to close businesses.

Several American states with a high volume of cases like New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, have imposed curfews and mandated the closure of bars and restaurants, except for takeout services.

State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte also said Wednesday the state is experiencing a shortage of specialized swabs used as part of coronavirus testing kits. She said the state is working on revised recommendations for who should be getting tested because of the shortage.

Meanwhile, South Dakota officials announced Wednesday that the state would temporarily halt testing due to shortage of materials used as part of the chemical testing process. Burgum said the two states were looking into the possibility of trading the swabs that North Dakota lacks for the reagents and enzymes that South Dakota lacks.

The state has reported 362 tests for the virus as of Tuesday afternoon, with 355 coming back negative. The department no longer lists pending tests on its website because private providers don’t need to get permission to send tests to the state lab.

Every state now has at least one confirmed case of the illness, and some states like Washington, New York and California have more than known 500 cases. Minnesota has 77 known cases, and South Dakota has announced 11 positive tests and one death.

Burgum announced the five-day closure of the state's 175 public and private school districts Sunday in an effort to increase "social distancing" by limiting situations in which the virus can spread easily between people. He said the state would announce Thursday afternoon whether to keep schools closed.

Hundreds of public events and meetings in North Dakota, including the high school state basketball tournaments, the political party conventions and the Fargo Marathon, have been canceled or postponed to prevent mass gatherings during the epidemic.

State and national health officials have repeatedly said taking these kinds of actions could help prevent a sudden outbreak of COVID-19 that overwhelms the health care system.

People can help protect themselves from the spread of the virus by diligently practicing preventative behaviors, like avoiding crowds, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with soap and water and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

Symptoms of COVID-19 in those who have been exposed can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

Reported illnesses have ranged from people with few to no symptoms to people becoming severely ill and dying. People who think they may have COVID-19 should call their health care provider first before going to the clinic, unless it’s an emergency.

Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease, are at a greater risk of suffering a serious illness or death from the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Burgum said Tuesday residents who are traditionally "North Dakota tough" and work through illnesses on the job now have to be "North Dakota smart" and stay home when sick.

For questions related to COVID-19, the public can call the health department hotline at 866-207-2880 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Individuals who need medical advice should contact their health care provider.

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