North Dakota is middle of the pack when it comes to being prepared for public health emergencies, according to a new report from the Trust for America's Health. The nonpartisan nonprofit measured states' performance on 10 emergency preparedness indicators ranging from lab capacity to public health funding. It put states in three tiers: high, middle and low level of readiness for health emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. The report, Ready or Not 2021: Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, places North Dakota with 14 other states in the middle tier. Twenty states were higher; 15 were lower.
“The importance of this report is that it gives states actionable data to adopt policies that save lives," Trust President and CEO John Auerbach said in a statement. "The COVID-19 crisis shows that we have much more work to do to protect Americans from health threats."
The Trust stressed that the report's findings are not a measure of any state's COVID-19 response, and that even states that ranked high "are not sufficiently equipped to respond to a pandemic without federal help."
The report generally gives North Dakota good marks. For example, the state's 31% increase in public health funding in fiscal year 2019-20 was fifth-highest among states, and all hospitals in the state participate in a health care coalition, compared to 89% on average nationally. North Dakota also got credit for having a state lab plan for a surge in testing capacity - something the report said was "extremely critical" during the pandemic.
The lab "scaled up from running 197 COVID samples per day to running 7,500 per day," governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said in a statement to the Tribune.
The state also got credit - as did most - for such things as participation in a nurse licensure compact, and for having accredited public health and emergency management programs.
North Dakota was one of only three states with no hospitals getting a high grade for patient safety. Nowatzki noted that's based on an annual grading of hospitals by the nonprofit watchdog Leapfrog Group that has been disputed by some in the industry. Some hospitals tout their grades, while others don't participate in the group's survey. Some hospitals in other states have sued over it.
CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck in recent years has gotten mostly B grades, with a couple of C's.
“Keeping our patients safe is our top priority and we are proud of our teams for putting safety first," spokeswoman Chelsey Kralicek said in a statement to the Tribune. "We work together as a team to implement best practices to achieve the best patient experience and help protect patients from errors, injuries, and infections.”
Sanford Health Bismarck has received mostly C's in recent years, with one D. The hospital didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the grades.
The North Dakota Hospital Association didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the Trust report. North Dakota's overall preparedness score was 5.2, on a range of all states from 4 to 6.6. Nowatzki said, "Bottom line is that North Dakota has a robust public health system that has performed extremely well during the COVID-19 pandemic, and indicators in this report reflect that."
North Dakota has received high marks from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its COVID-19 vaccination effort. The state ranks fourth in the country in terms of doses administered per capita, behind only Alaska, New Mexico and South Dakota.
As of Friday, 173,387 people in North Dakota had received at least one dose of vaccine, and just under 290,000 total doses had been administered. The Health Department on Friday also reported 125 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death, a Morton County man in his 90s. Total coronavirus cases rose to 100,847 statewide, and North Dakota's pandemic death toll increased to 1,455. Health officials calculated a positivity rate of 2.2% from 8,035 tests handled Friday. More than 1.7 million tests have been completed in the past year.
Active COVID-19 cases rose by 30 statewide, to 671, with a relatively stable 73 in Burleigh-Morton Counties. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations statewide were unchanged at 17.
In-person visitation at state prison facilities will resume the week of March 29, the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday. Each facility will have specific guidelines, but all will follow the same basic rules. Visits are limited to one adult visitor and must be scheduled in advance. Visitors must test negative for COVID-19, and they must wear an N95 mask. Visitors will be traced following their visit in case they subsequently test positive for COVID-19.
“Allowing our adult and youth residents the chance to have in-person visitation at our facilities can hopefully bring a small sense of normalcy for everyone,” Interim Corrections Director Dave Krabbenhoft said. More information
All North Dakota counties are in the green "low" risk level on the state's five-level color-coded system. The risk level determines coronavirus-related protocols in place under the ND Smart Restart Plan for everything from businesses to family gatherings. Those protocols are not enforced. For more information, go here.
The state's COVID-19 Smart Restart County Analysis data dashboard can be accessed at https://www.health.nd.gov/. A list of free testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. A list of vaccine priority groups can be found at www.health.nd.gov/covid-19-vaccine-priority-groups. People can go to health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.
For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go here. to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.
Blake Nicholson Reporting