Late Wednesday night, March 11th, the North Dakota Department of Health confirmed that a man in Ward County, ND has tested positive for Coronavirus. As of writing this, the North Dakota Department of Health has tested a total of 27 individuals, with 14 tests pending, seven individuals currently being monitored, and one person has tested positive.
You may be thinking, “This is just a cold. Get over it. No big deal. Fake news. The media needs to stop this nonsense.”
That’s understandable. After all, the Kübler-Ross model states denial is the first stage of grief. And that’s what people need to realize, maybe even yourself — that the masses are in a total state of denial.
Tonight, in quite possibly his most serious tone, President Trump addressed the nation. All travel from Europe is now effectively banned. The shipment of all goods from Europe, also banned. The NBA has canceled the remainder of its season. NCAA Basketball Tournaments will not allow spectators. 51 colleges and universities are closed for the time being. Major airlines are cutting their international and domestic flights. Google has ordered all North American employees to work from home, as has Apple and countless others. Our stock market is crashing. And Italy has shut down their entire country. All stores, venues, schools, universities, restaurants, and public gathering places are now closed in Italy with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies. It’s only a matter of time before other countries follow suit.
Trump’s own chief of staff is under quarantine as are many who have been in face to face contact with the President.
Our lives are about to become very different.
America’s top immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned congress today, “If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions.”
Sure. You may get COVID-19 and live to see another day. In fact, you’ve got a pretty good chance of that. But you’ll also be infectious for a while. And that loved-one with an underlying health condition? You know, that friend or family member who has a condition such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, or asthma (just to name a few), they may not share your good fortune, especially if they’re 65-years or older.
If basic public health precautions are not taken, if individuals continue to disregard warnings made by our nation’s top medical officials, by early May, using basic math, North Dakota should expect 500 cases. Just a few weeks later on Memorial Day weekend, the state would have 8,192 cases. And by July 9th, theoretically, every North Dakotan would be infected with COVID-19.
Also take into consideration that total, according to the American Hospital Directory, North Dakota has a total of 2,003 staffed medical beds. By May 16th, the total number of COVID-19 cases in North Dakota would surpass the total number of available beds.
The CDC estimates that 16% of all cases are severe, meaning not everyone who contracts the virus will necessarily be hospitalized. Still, at the rate of infection in North Dakota, if no preventative measures are taken, if we allow ourselves to shrug this thing off, by June 3, there would be 2,621 SEVERE COVID-19 infections in the state, which would exceed North Dakota’s current hospital bed capacity. Take into consideration that already, our hospital beds are nearly at full capacity.
And even if COVID-19 impacted only our elderly, the effects would be devastating. Consider this. In North Dakota, there are 211,656 individuals who are 55 years or older. If COVID-19 killed 2.3% of this population, 4,868 of our greatest generation would perish. If COVID-19 infected every North Dakotan who is 25 years or older (which totals 500,779 individuals), 11,518 North Dakotans would die. That’s the equivalent of Valley City and Watford City being wiped clean from North Dakota’s map. God forbid every North Dakotan was infected (somewhat unlikely but who knows where this will go), 17,481 would die (2,000 more than the city of Jamestown).
North Dakota is no stranger to challenges. And we’ve got a few coming up. Specifically, we’re looking at major flooding this spring. Sandbag efforts are already underway in Fargo meaning citizens will be in close proximity to each other, working side-by-side filling and lifting sandbags as they roll up their sleeves to save their city once again from the infamous Red River. Sandbagging is tough work. I know. I’ve volunteered in Bismarck, Fargo, and Minot filling bags. It’s the sort of rewarding work that also leaves you tired, hot, and sweaty as you share close quarters with thousands of your fellow neighbors — a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19 community spread. North Dakota’s spring flooding could very well accelerate the state’s rate of viral infection.
And then there’s the question of our students. As more and more schools and campuses close their doors, what happens to the students in our state reliant on free or reduced lunches? According to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, 38,572 students are accounted for free or reduced meal programs. What happens to these students when our schools are closed? How many of these students depend on these meals because it’s the only meal they’ll get in a 24-hour period? And further, what happens to our weekend programs that distribute meals to students via backpack on Fridays?
What happens to our employees who can’t work from home? And of the 20,000 nurses in our state, of those with small children, will they be forced to stay at home to care for their families as a result of school and daycare closings? What does that do to our our healthcare systems’ capacities to care for the sick? What do we do about our upcoming Class A and B basketball tournaments? Do we let the show go on and risk major community spread for the sake of a few trophies?
To summarize, we’ve got some challenges ahead. And I only listed a couple.
And in case you’ve been living under a rock, this whole coronavirus thing has already impacted our communities hard. If you disagree, I dare you to go shopping for toilet paper. Our fear has driven it to near extinction. Slowly but surely, the store shelves are thinning out and goods are in short supply.
This isn’t a time for divisiveness. This isn’t a time to doubt. This is a time for unity in North Dakota. And jokes aside, this is a time for legendary leadership.
To the North Dakota legislators who have a history of sharing conspiracy theories, disbelief, rumors, and misconceptions, let me just say stop. Spare us your drama. You’ll have plenty of moments to shine in future Flickertail Times satire pieces. But now is not the time to be spreading misconceptions. Now is not the time to politicize this crisis. The very lives of your constituents depend on it. Now is the time to heed the advice of real experts.
To North Dakota’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, now is not the time for a pitty-party. We’re facing quite possibly the most monumental public health crisis in our nation’s history that will impact every man, woman, and child. Schools will inevitably be impacted. Sporting events will be canceled. We should expect some students to become ill and more teachers. It’s undeniable. And we should expect many families to be impacted. We need a Superintendent of Public Instruction who is of clear mind who can help our teachers, students, staff, and administrators navigate through this time of uncertainty. We need someone who is ready to lead today. Time is of the essence. We do not have time for you to pull yourself together three months from now. So spare us your soapbox. If you’re not up to the job in the coming days, then as a public servant, it is your duty to step aside for the sake of our students and their well-being. There are plenty of capable, highly qualified district superintendents who are up to the task.
And to North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, we’re depending on you. This is going to be one of the most hectic periods in our state’s fabled history. You’re going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming days and some of those decisions may not be easy, especially given we’re in an election year. But there’s more at stake here than your re-election (and come on, we all know you’re going to win — it’s about as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west). Now is the time for steady leadership, to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and ready to act. Surround yourself with advisors who are willing to give you the tough answers. This is not a time to surround yourself with yes men and women. And be ready. The public’s outcry will be loud when you make the tough calls. We’re counting on you.
As Thomas Paine once said, these are the times that try men’s souls. And trying times are ahead.
In North Dakota, we pride ourselves in caring for one another. We look out for our neighbors, care for our children, and take pride in our communities. We’re not perfect. We have our faults. But we’re one of the only places left on earth where our handshake and word is as good as gold.
And sans the handshaking, we’re going to need some of those legendary values in the days and weeks ahead. Now is the time to consider we may need to make some tough decisions, unpopular decisions. But if we stick together, we’ll see this thing through.
The Flickertail Times was never meant to be a serious outlet. And I’ll be resuming the jokes, puns, and satire again soon because I truly believe we’re all going to be needing some laughter in the coming days.
So when you’re out shopping, be nice to one another. Don’t snicker when you see someone wearing a mask or gloves – be grateful that they’re at least trying to exercise basic precautions for everyone’s sake. And stop complaining. Nothing about a global pandemic is convenient. We’re all just as frustrated as the next person. But complaining about it isn’t going to change a thing.
Give your loved-one a call to check on them, and then call your neighbor to make sure they’re okay too, because we’re all in this together.
As the old song goes,
Now this is the law of the prairie
As old and as true as the sky
And the Bison that keep it will prosper
And the Bison that break it will die
As the creeper that girdles
the tree trunk
This law is the final word:
For the strength of the Herd
is the Bison
And the strength of the Bison
is the Herd.
Remember that. And when in doubt, wash your hands.