In “Air Force nurses deployed to North Dakota to address hospital staffing crunch”, Adam Willis reported late yesterday in the Grand Forks Herald that the US Air Force is deploying 60 medical personnel, mostly nurses, to North Dakota as infection counts rise in the state. North Dakota currently has the worst coronavirus infection rate for any nation or state in the world, and more than one in every 1,000 North Dakotans has already died from the disease.
The Air Force team is expected to arrive tomorrow, and will assist at medical centers in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks. The North Dakota Dept. of Health is also hiring 60 temporary civilian nurses, who are expected to arrive starting this weekend. The Minot area has been particularly hard hit — as of Wednesday, the 7-day moving average of daily infections per capita in its county was the highest of any county its size in the United States, according to a New York Times database. The Minot Air Force Base is the home of two major wings of the Air Force Global Strike Command, and it is one of several US military installations currently under travel restrictions, due to COVID-19 infections in its area.
In “‘People are going to die’: Hospitals in half the states are facing a massive staffing shortage as Covid-19 surges”, Olivia Goldhill reported yesterday in STAT that the problem is not limited to North Dakota. Hospitals in at least 25 states are critically short of staff due to COVID-19. Goldhill writes:
The shortages are primarily caused by overwhelming numbers of patients as coronavirus spreads, combined with decreasing staff levels as nurses and doctors themselves fall sick or have to quarantine after being exposed to infected people. Covid-19 is also prevalent in rural areas that have been struggling with a shortage of health professionals for years; hospitals in more remote regions don’t have equipment such as ventilators, and so must transfer severely ill patients to already-overwhelmed urban health care systems. The scale of the problem makes it harder to address: Systems designed to offset shortages by bringing in backup from other areas don’t work when so many states are affected simultaneously.
For many months, North Dakota had resisted imposing mask mandates or curfews even as infections rose. A week ago Gov. Doug Burgum finally announced a statewide mask mandate. However, violations are treated as infractions with the possibility of a ticket, the governor’s order does not specify the size of the fine so each municipality and county can determine the penalty if any, and several North Dakota sheriffs and police departments have said that they won’t enforce the mask order. Last week’s order does not cover church services (so they can continue to be maskless), and Burgum amended the order Wednesday to also allow winter sports practices and school extracurricular activities to resume on November 30; sports competitions can resume on December 14.
The North Dakota state health department is currently led by Dirk Wilke, who has no medical training. The previous state health officer Dr. Andrew Stahl resigned in September after Gov. Burgum rescinded a quarantine order.