North Dakota, which has emerged as one of the nation’s worst coronavirus hot spots, is too overwhelmed to do its own contact tracing and is asking patients to do their own.
Because of the recent surge, people who test positive for the coronavirus have been waiting an average of three days to learn their results, the North Dakota Department of Health and Gov. Doug Burgum (R) said in a Tuesday statement. To speed up that process, 50 soldiers from the North Dakota National Guard who were handling contact tracing have been reassigned to focus on alerting people who have tested positive and could be spreading the virus.
In addition to creating a growing backlog, “significant community spread of coronavirus and a lack of compliance with close contact investigations have diminished the effectiveness of contact tracing,” the statement said. Public health officials will no longer notify North Dakotans if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, and patients will instead be responsible for notifying their close contacts.
“This temporary situation required an immediate and significant shift in resources to provide results in a timely manner to individuals who test positive to protect their health and slow the spread of covid-19,” Burgum said.
Adjusted for its relatively small population, North Dakota has reported some of the highest numbers of new cases of any state in recent weeks. On a per capita basis, its total number of infections reported since the pandemic began is now the highest nationwide — 4,542 for every 100,000 residents, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. Hospitalizations have also been rising steadily, and as of early Thursday, state data showed that only nine staffed intensive care unit beds were available in the whole state.