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Burgum asks Trump to declare major disaster for North Dakota, unlock federal aid

Burgum declared a state of emergency earlier this month and has issued executive orders that mandate closures of schools, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and barber shops.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announces the closure of all schools in the state due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus at a press conference in Bismarck on Sunday, March 15. Joining him behind the podium are state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler (far right) and sign language interpreter Lindsey Solberg Herbel. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum asked President Donald Trump on Sunday, March 29, to declare a major disaster for the state in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

If granted by Trump, the declaration would clear the path for North Dakota to receive federal aid based on need in the state's 53 counties and four largest American Indian reservations. Trump has already declared major disasters in more than 20 states, including California and New York.

"I have determined the COVID-19 pandemic response is of such severity and magnitude that effective response and recovery is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments," Burgum wrote in the request. "We respectfully request that you (Trump) declare a major disaster, with an incident period starting January 20, 2020, and continuing."

The North Dakota Department of Health has confirmed 98 known cases of COVID-19, as of Sunday morning. Burgum said Saturday the actual number of cases could be near 1,000 since testing for the virus only provides stale information about the rate of infection.

The state arrived at a potential inflection point in the fight against the virus on Thursday when community spread overtook travel as the most common source of exposure. Community spread means the virus was not contracted through travel or exposure to a known case and implies that someone else in a community has the illness but has not yet been tested. The governor said Saturday residents all over the state should operate as though the virus is in their community and take measures to avoid contact with other people.


Statistical models suggest about 152,000 residents, or 20% of the state's population, could become infected with COVID-19 over an 18-month period, Burgum wrote in the request. In that worst-case scenario , the state would have significantly ramp up the capacity of the its health care system by establishing temporary hospitals at North Dakota State University in Fargo and Bismarck State College.

However, Burgum stated Saturday he has "very low confidence" in the accuracy of current modeling because of the limited amount of data collected on the virus in North Dakota.

Approval of the request would unlock several federal funding sources that may include crisis counseling for people affected by the pandemic and other streams of direct federal assistance for state, tribal and local governments.

Burgum declared a state of emergency earlier this month and has issued executive orders that mandate closures of schools, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and barber shops.

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Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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