About 13 percent of North Dakotans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

But a study by Columbia University suggests a much higher percentage of the state may have already had the virus. So how close is North Dakota to herd immunity?

Researchers at Columbia University say a computer model estimates 105 million people in America have already had COVID-19. That includes 60 percent of North Dakotans.

It’s only an estimate, but North Dakota’s Director of Field Services says many people in our state have chosen not to get tested for a lot of reasons.

“‘My wife is already positive, I already feel crummy, there’s no need for me to get tested, I’m just going to get quarantine.’ People who just don’t want to get tested, you know, people who have symptoms, people who don’t believe in COVID, whatever reason they just don’t want to get tested,” explained Brenton Nesemeier, the Director of Field Services for the North Dakota Department of Health.

Dr. Noe Mateo with Sanford Health says there are two ways to approach herd immunity.

One option is to vaccinate everybody, and the other is natural infection, which Mateo warns comes with risks.

“You’re not going to have young, healthy individuals die. They’ll just get sick. Acutely ill. Maybe chronically ill. A few minorities will have long-term illnesses and long-term sequelae. But certainly, you’re going cause significant mortality. More harm, morbidity and deaths in the elderly population,” explained Dr. Mateo.

And even as vaccines are rolled out the coronavirus situation continues to change, especially with the new strains on the horizon.

“We do have these various strains and the other strain. So there’s things that we don’t know,” explained Nesemeier.

“A lot of discussions, whether prior infection is actually protective against the mutant strains, that’s not clear,” explained Dr. Mateo.

It’s for these reasons it is uncertain if the Peace Garden State is near herd immunity. That’s why doctors say you should continue to follow safety protocols.

“People can take a deep breath behind their mask, of course. The deal is, is all of these developments enough to say we should no longer wear masks? The answer is categorically no. Does it mean we have to relax what we do in terms of business and school restrictions? The answer is no,” explained Dr. Mateo.

Both of the health experts say with vaccine rollout, it’s the best option to working toward herd immunity.