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Gov. Burgum announces new reporting methods for COVID-19 deaths, issues “Thanksgiving Challenge”

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It’s been a whirlwind week for the coronavirus in North Dakota.

Fargo and Minot approved mask mandates, the health department announced a backlog in contact tracing and the state reached a record high in active cases.

At Gov. Doug Burgum’s COVID-19 press conference, he continued to preach individual choices, not mandates, as the cure.

“A statewide mandate, I’m not sure where that leads us, might lead to less compliance versus more,” Burgum said.

And as questions loom about whether it’s safe to gather with elderly family on Thanksgiving, Burgum issued what he called a “Thanksgiving Challenge” four weeks out from the holiday.

“It would be really great to be sharing with all of you at Thanksgiving that our numbers are going down as we head into the holiday period,” Burgum said.

Burgum said the state health department will no longer report that those who die with COVID-19 had underlying conditions in an effort to emphasize the severity of the virus, seeing as two-thirds of North Dakotans have at least one underlying condition.

“Perhaps because we’ve included those words, those are the words that come off the death certificate, perhaps people think that by saying that we’re trying to downplay the seriousness of the disease,” he said.

He also said the health department now has an automated system for contact tracing to alert close contacts via text or email. No counties’ risk levels were changed, nor has the governors’ tack toward handling the virus, now seven months and 75 press conferences into the pandemic.

“It’s not a question of do we need a new approach or do we need to have the White House put it in a memo versus what we’ve been saying in North Dakota for seven months. What we need is increased compliance or increased participation,” Burgum said.

His pleas for personal responsibility persist as the death toll hits 440 Friday, with roughly 40 percent of those having occurred just this month. The state is also soon to reach nearly 800,000 tests in the coming days, Burgum said.

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