North Dakota nursing homes see sharp spike in COVID-19 cases

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Touchmark is one of many long-term care facilities seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, as they now have 42 active cases between residents and staff. Tanner Robinson / WDAY

FARGO — Long-term care residents and staff have been on a COVID-19 roller coaster across North Dakota, and some are getting ready for another uphill climb.

"This has been a long eight months," said Chris Larson, the chairman of the Reuniting Residents and Families Task Force. "It's not close to being done."

Larson said he remembers when it was only 400 combined coronavirus cases between residents and staff statewide, and now that number has jumped to nearly 1,300.

Nursing home leaders said cases have been growing steadily since the early fall, partly because of schools opening back up.


"We have a lot of employees with school-age children, going to daycares, things like that," said Shawn Stuhaug, the president and CEO of Bethany Retirement Living.

Many homes, including Bethany, have either limited or completely closed off visitors over the past few months, but Stuhaug said staff is doing everything they can to find and isolate each case they find.

"Unless somebody's incubating, or unless you test every day, you're not gonna catch everybody, but at least you know that a majority of people are off the schedule," he said, referring to both staff and residents who test positive.

However, Larson said if more people don't start following the state's guidelines soon, it could be trouble for the holiday season.

"A lot of these nursing home residents are not going to see their families on Thanksgiving, whether it be just because they can't, (or) whether it be because of community numbers," he said.

Although Larson is hopeful for the virus spread to slow, he's also hoping the worst isn't yet to come.

"We've already lost hundreds of residents in long-term care," he said, talking about the nearly 350 residents and staff who've died from COVID-19 in long-term care across the state. "We can't afford to lose any more."

Tanner Robinson is a producer for First News on WDAY-TV.
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