Port: ND doesn't need a "shelter-in-place" order. Based on an online petition, it seems like most North Dakotans agree

EMBED: ND State officials March 18 coronavirus meeting
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and other state officials on stage during a March 18 press conference addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — Online petitions are dumb.

In terms of civic engagement, they're just about the least you could do. If you're concerned about an issue, please do something more helpful than adding your name to an online petition.

Still, a recent petition urging Gov. Doug Burgum to "place a shelter-in-place order and do what's best for our state" is revealing.

Though probably not in the way its organizers intended.

It was launched on Friday and has received attention from the news media around the state. Given that it's subject matter is both an emotional plea and topical to a global pandemic currently impacting the lives of everyone in our state, if this call were tapping into some widespread public sentiment, you'd expect a strong response.


Yet as I write this, the going-on-four-days-old petition has garnered just 3,623 signatures.

That's not a strong response.

That's a low number.

So low, it tells us something about how North Dakotans feel about a "shelter in place" order.

Despite the national media attention North Dakota is receiving as one of five states which haven't yet issued such an order, it seems as though North Dakotans aren't convinced we need one.

The data would seem to agree.

The North Dakota Department of Health created this chart, and it shows two things. First, the cumulative number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state and, second, the daily amount added to that total.

It's the latter we want to look at because it's been a relatively flat line for a while now:


EMBED: North Dakota COVID-19 Department of Health Chart

Our public health officials have been saying for a while now that the goal we hope to accomplish with policies like social distancing is to flatten the curve. It seems like we're accomplishing that in North Dakota, so far, with the policies Burgum and his administration have put in place.

That's not to say we may not need changes down the road. This is a very dynamic situation, and it calls for dynamic leadership.

When and if those decisions are made, however, they should be based on real-world facts and observations. Not online populist rage from a bunch of self-appointed experts playing the "we oughta" game.

Burgum and his administration have done a great job handling this terrible situation so far. I have every confidence they will continue to make good decisions, and those decisions will be based on what the situation we're in dictates.

Let's hope they won't be caves to online pressure from the social media hive mind.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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