NDDoH, Burgum give update on postive COVID-19 trends in state

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Miller Point Director of Nursing Alena Goergen receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during the NDDoH weekly COVID-19 press conference on Dec. 16.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit North Dakota hard. For the majority of November, the state had the worst outbreak of COVID-19 per-capita in the country. However, since precautions were put in place by Governor Doug Burgum, the state is now seeing improvement from where it was at. 

At the weekly COVID-19 Response Press Conference held by the North Dakota Department of Health on Dec. 16, Burgum applauded health care workers and North Dakotans efforts into slowing the spread of the disease. In addition, the introduction of the vaccine and newer testing options as detailed in the press conference. 

"All three of these tools are super exciting, but it does not reduce the need for us to be vigilant in terms of wearing masks, socially distancing and avoiding large gatherings, particularly as the holidays come up," Burgum said. "Transmission can occur in your home, in and around the dining table."

Director of the NDDoH Division of Disease Control Kirby Kruger gave an update on the improving numbers as a result of the month executive order. There was a net decrease of 117 hospitalizations, which are now at 160, and have seen the state's positivity rate go down to 7.3 percent, the lowest percentage amongst states in the Great Planes and Rockies. 74 individuals have also been discharged from health facilities over the past two weeks. 

According to Kruger, the number boost can be accredited to a data clean up over the last three months. The data boost comes through case managers catching up after the surge in October and November, lags in reporting discharge numbers and notifications to health departments, and quality issues. 

"To fix this issue in the future, the team will be working more actively with facilities to ensure the information is up to date and accurate," Kruger said. "We will continue to the health network daily for hospitalization information."

Despite the improving numbers, there is still a concern and a need to get better. The lake region, specifically Towner, Ramsey, and Benson counties, were brought up as a concern in references to cases per-10,000 people. There was also 115 deaths over the past week statewide due to COVID-19. Kruger said that hospitals have communicated to the health department and the governor's office there are still staffing issues and health care workers are still under a lot of pressure. 

"I think that it is important that we just remain vigilant in this pandemic and we thank you for taking steps that help us continue these positive trends," Kruger said. 

CHI St. Alexius Family Physician Dr. Laura Archuleta receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during the NDDoH weekly COVID-19 press conference on Dec. 16.

NDDoH Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell went into depth more on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, that have arrived and will be arriving in the state. North Dakota received 6,825 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, with 831 doses having been administered in the state, as of Wednesday morning. 

The vaccine is given in two doses over 28 days. The vaccine is authorized for those 16-years and older. 13,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is still being discussed when it is going to be released, have been ordered by the state. Vaccinations in long-term care units are expected to be administered the week of Dec. 27. 

Those with a history of a severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis to a previous vaccine, or injectable therapy should not get the COVID-19 vaccine. That group is the only group that is not recommended to get the vaccine according to Howell. There have been a few common side effects of fatigue and muscle pain. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can be vaccinated as well. 

Following Howell's time, CHI St. Alexius Family Physician Dr. Laura Archuleta and Miller Point Director of Nursing Alena Goergen both received the vaccine at the press conference, which was also live-streamed. 

Goergen, who's facility is in Mandan, tested positive for COVID-19 in September asymptomatically. In her first few days of contracting the disease, she said it felt like a common cold, but it continually got worse. The headache was the worst symptom and the hardest to recover from according to Goergen. 

Goergen did receive treatment for pneumonia and was still recovering from the virus weeks after. 

"Working in long term care, COVID affects people so differently," Goergen said. "It's a very unpredictable manner how it affects people. I've had the unfortunate experience of knowing people who weren't just hospitalized, but have also succumbed to the fatality of COVID-19. For me, having the opportunity to come to speak and receive my vaccine is an invaluable experience." 

Archuleta followed with her vaccination saying that she doesn't have time to contract the virus and while she knows she might not be as strongly effective by the disease, she doesn't know if the same applies to her family, and friends. Like Goergen, Archuleta has seen the variety in severity COVID-19 brings, which ranges from asymptomatic cases to those having to be put on ventilators. 

"For me, the vaccine has given me some hope. I seriously got chills when Alena got her vaccine," Archuleta said. "It has been a very dark, depressing, hopeless time for my friends in the health care field. I've seen renewed excitement in energy in them knowing that the vaccine is coming." 

Archuleta wrapped up her speech about receiving the vaccine by saying that she has never been excited to receive a vaccine until today. 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.