Improving COVID numbers in North Dakota is moving the state to a different strategy in dealing with the virus.

Gov. Doug Burgum Thursday said the state is preparing to shift from a “pandemic response” to an “endemic response.”

A “pandemic” occurs when there is an increase in cases of a disease across the globe. An “endemic” occurs when the disease is still present but there are no large shifts in case counts and the patterns of infection become more stable.

The move comes almost exactly two years after COVID-19 was officially confirmed in North Dakota on March 11, 2020. In that time, over 2,200 residents have died as a result of the virus. COVID-19 went through several mutations and, in North Dakota, active cases peaked twice: First at over 10,400 cases in November 2020, and again at over 12,000 cases in January 2022.

Since then, active cases, hospitalizations and deaths have plummeted.

“With the continued decrease in active cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 in North Dakota, we believe it is time to plan the transition toward an endemic phase with this virus,” said State Health Officer Nizar Wehbi. “Endemic COVID-19 does not mean that the virus is gone. The virus is still in our communities, but we now have more tools and therapeutics to fight the virus and protect our vulnerable population and maintain hospital capacity.”

As the state shifts toward endemic status, North Dakota National Guard support for COVID-19 operations in the state will end March 17, marking 736 consecutive days of response by the Guard. It will end the largest and longest state mobilization in the history of the North Dakota National Guard, with soldiers and airmen contributing over 133,000 personnel days to the pandemic response and supporting approximately 467,000 tests and over 100,000 vaccines.

“From testing and vaccinations to providing additional capacity at the state lab, the work of the National Guard enhanced our response across the state, and we are grateful for their assistance, service and lifesaving work,” Burgum said.

Wehbi said the state is maintaining its response capacity and capability to be prepared in case of another COVID-19 surge or new variant.