The coronavirus has upended our lives. We’re slowly adjusting to a new normal. This contagion will be with us for months and likely longer before we acquire herd immunity — preferably through a vaccine — to stop its spread.
The virus acts unpredictably. Some of those who are infected have only minor symptoms or none at all, but others become seriously ill. Some, usually those who are elderly or have underlying illnesses, die.
Because this coronavirus is new to humans, we lack immunity, enabling the contagion to spread rapidly. The principal problem with a wildfire spread is that it can quickly overwhelm hospitals, meaning some lack life-saving intensive care and ventilators.
Fortunately, that hasn’t happened in North Dakota. Far from it. As of late last week, North Dakota had more than 1,000 confirmed cases. Of those, 85 were hospitalized at some point and 30 were currently receiving hospital care.
Here’s an important point: So far North Dakota is using just 1% of its hospital capacity for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In the Fargo-Moorhead area, Sanford Health alone is prepared to allocate 400 beds, including 225 intensive care beds, for COVID-19 patients.
North Dakota is very well positioned to deal with the coronavirus in other critical areas.
We have an aggressive testing program. So far, at least 3.6% of the state’s population has been tested for the coronavirus. We’re capable of running almost 2,000 tests daily — a capacity that will climb to 4,000 later this month and to 6,000 by the end of June.
Testing is critical to identify those who are infected so they can quarantine themselves and halt the spread. Here again, North Dakota has impressive capabilities enabling tracing of an infected person’s close contacts to begin within four hours of that person testing positive.
All of this means that it’s rational for North Dakota to allow “high contact” businesses, such as bars, restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons and tattoo parlors, to reopen with restrictions, as Gov. Doug Burgum has allowed.
The easing isn’t without risks, as Burgum acknowledges. He’s aware that a resurgence is possible — but we’re well equipped to deal with that possibility. The state can impose targeted restrictions to contain an outbreak.
Those who are quick to condemn the action shouldn’t dismiss the very real damage this virus has caused in other forms. The number of people thrust into unemployment is shocking, the likes of which this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression.
The tremendous damage to the economy isn’t yet fully evident. But banks are bracing for a wave of loan defaults.
Think of the very real stress and misery this enormous economic damage inflicts on countless lives. Some of the suffering will be ongoing. We can expect a rise in deaths of despair — suicide, drug overdoses, health problems caused or exacerbated by drug or alcohol abuse.
So there is a very real human toll from the enormous price the economic shutdown has imposed. Our economy will struggle to recover for several years — but the prospects are better under the “smart restart” path North Dakota is navigating.
It won’t be perfect, but it’s a wise course and the best option given the unprecedented challenges we face. A good outcome will depend on everyone acting responsibly and continuing to exercise care in physical distancing and avoiding gatherings.