This guest post was submitted by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum
Since this historic journey began with the first case of COVID-19 being confirmed in North Dakota on March 11, we have learned much about this insidious disease. We have learned that it spreads quickly and without regard for borders. We have learned that it takes loved ones too soon and disrupts livelihoods too often, leaving behind a wake of emotional and economic hardship.
We have also learned much about ourselves.
In the six weeks since I challenged all of us to let go of being “North Dakota tough” and embrace being “North Dakota smart,” you have answered the call. Today we have one of the lowest COVID-19 positive test rates in the nation, an exceptionally low number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and one of the highest per-capita testing rates in the country.
In every county, every tribal nation and every corner of our state, you have demonstrated the power of individual responsibility in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. You have shown tremendous resolve and resilience in response to our targeted, pragmatic approach to this pandemic, and your actions have literally saved lives.
To our health care workers, for their courage and heroism on the front lines of this war against an invisible enemy, we extend our undying gratitude and respect. To the North Dakota businesses that have innovated and adapted to survive while also supporting their employees –those displaced and those who kept working – you have our deepest thanks for paving the way to the new normal.
And for all of you and the immeasurable and often painful sacrifices you have made thus far – forgoing family gatherings and funerals, closing businesses, missing birthday parties and other milestones, guiding our K-12 and college students through distance learning – you have made a profound difference in the lives of your fellow citizens, and for this we are immensely grateful.
As we brace ourselves for the likelihood that this virus will continue to cause disruption for weeks, months, perhaps even years, we remain steadfast in our resolve to fight for every life and every livelihood.
That’s what North Dakota Smart Restart is all about.
Working together – as North Dakotans do better than anyone during a crisis – we can continue to reduce the risk to the general public and especially our most vulnerable populations. And in doing so, we can thoughtfully restart those limited sectors of our economy that were restricted as we fought to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure hospital capacity to handle any surge in cases.
The vast majority of North Dakota’s economy has remained open through this crisis. Our success has hinged on a low-mandate, high-compliance approach, and North Dakotans have done their part. It was up to you, and you came through.
Now, as we move into the next stage with an even lighter touch of government mandates, we’re counting even more on the individual responsibility of citizens and employers to protect their team members and customers.
We encourage North Dakotans to embrace this North Dakota Smart Restart plan as a roadmap to a better, safer and healthier tomorrow for employers, employees and customers alike. This applies not only to those businesses affected by executive orders, but to all businesses as we enter this new normal.
The fight against COVID-19 is far from over. We may very well still be in the first leg of this long, difficult journey. The coronavirus remains as contagious as ever and just as threatening to those most vulnerable – the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. For their safety, we urge them to stay home for at least two more weeks after business restrictions are eased.
We are comfortable proceeding at this juncture with the conditions I outlined on March 15 as a prerequisite for North Dakota Smart Restart. Our rapid testing and contact tracing grow more robust by the day. We possess the skillsets and capacity to quickly identify and contain future outbreaks. We can move forward with optimism that we likely won’t need broad statewide orders. But we must be prepared to conduct targeted closures of schools, churches, businesses and manufacturing plants if they experience a hot-spot outbreak.
Despite our ongoing challenges, I remain optimistic that North Dakotans will draw upon our state’s deeply engrained values of personal responsibility, common sense and caring for our families, neighbors and communities. We will move forward as one North Dakota – in liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable – and emerge stronger than ever.