To the Editor: 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been urged to protect themselves, their neighbors, and their loved ones amidst the worst global health crisis in generations. After months of physical distancing and staying at home, infections and deaths began to decline across our country. 

But in the weeks since states began reopening, some steps that were critical to the progress made were abandoned too quickly. We are now watching in real-time as a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases is erasing hard-won gains. In some states, hospitals are at or nearing their ICU capacity and shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies continue to pose a threat to health care workers and patients alike. 

While North Dakota is not a high spread state, we want to do everything possible to keep it that way. This is why as physicians, nurses, long term care administrators, hospital and health system leaders, we urge North Dakotans to take the simple steps we know will help stop the spread of the virus: wearing a face mask, maintaining physical distancing, and washing hands. We are not powerless in this public health crisis, and we can defeat it in the same way we defeated previous threats to public health—by allowing science and evidence to shape our decisions and inform our actions. 

There is a growing body of evidence that face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. One study shows the infection rate among employees at Mass General Brigham hospitals dropped significantly once all workers were required to wear face masks. Another study in Missouri shows that wearing a face mask prevented the spread of infection from two hair stylists to their customers. 

Despite claims otherwise, the prolonged use of face masks when properly worn does not cause CO2 intoxication, oxygen deficiency, or any other harm to the wearer. Surgeons operate for hours wearing them. They don’t have problems.                 

For those who have been waiting for more data before accepting the practice, these findings make it clear: Masks work. 

The toll of this pandemic is staggering, and it will take months, perhaps years, to truly understand its impact on our country and our way of life. But what is certain – and what the science and evidence tell us – is that COVID-19 is not behind us. Your actions are critical to stop the spread of COVID-19. We must remain vigilant and continue to take steps to mitigate the spread of the virus to protect each other and our loved ones. 

To those of you who are doing your part in helping turn the tide of this pandemic – thank you. There is only one way we will get through this – together.

Your continued partners in health, 

Tim Blasl, President North Dakota Hospital Association

Courtney Koebele, Executive Director North Dakota Medical Association 

Tessa Johnson, MSN, BSN, RN, CDP, North Dakota Nurses Association

President Shelly Peterson, President North Dakota Long Term Care Association

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta Outlines Key Questions for Safely Reopening Schools

BISMARCK, N.D. – No one wants to return to in-person teaching and learning more than North Dakota’s professional educators.  The women and men who have dedicated their lives to educating our future know better than anyone about the physical, intellectual, and psychological benefits that in-person instruction affords our children.  But no matter how anxious we are to return to the classroom and meet face to face with our students, we must do so only when we have mitigated the risk to the health of  students and staff to the greatest extent possible.  

In leaving the responsibility to local school officials to develop the practices and protocols for the reopening of their schools, Governor Doug Burgum has avoided a state dictated one-size-fits-all mandate.  Instead, Gov. Burgum and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler have provided guidance to districts to assist them in the creation of their reopening plans.  Now it is up to the district to do the heavy lifting and plan for reopening our schools.

To that end, it is imperative that each school district include the many talented and caring people in each community to build their reopening strategies.  Every reopening team or task force should include educators, education support professionals, students, community members, and health professionals.  And each plan must be transparent to create confidence in the community that every precaution has been taken to ensure that our schools are safe and will remain so for as long as they are open. 

There are many issues that need to be addressed as these protocols are developed:

What will schools do if a child is infected?  How about a teacher?

If a teacher is forced into a 14-day quarantine because a child or colleague contracts the virus, will the teacher have to use his or her sick days?

Will the Center for Disease Control guidelines for wearing masks and social distancing be applied in every school in each district?

What key data points will be monitored to inform the decisions of reopening teams?

What if only 60% of parents feel that our schools are safe and 40% do not and choose to have the district distance learning for their children?  Will teachers be expected to have two preps for each class?

Will students and staff have reliable and effective personal protection equipment?

What will be the trigger that sends all students home and reinstates     distance learning?

There are more questions than answers at this point.  Some districts, where the Coronavirus is rare, may open this fall as they always have with few modifications.  Other schools where infection rates are climbing, may be wise to delay opening their schools until there is a period of declining infection rates to best ensure that schools will be healthy places in which to learn and work.

But we should not look only to school districts to mitigate risk.  We all have a role to play and it is inexpensive, easy to do, and effective.  Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Socially distance.  On July 14, CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield said, “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”

Finally, we need Congress to act now get our school districts and local governments the necessary resources to effectively mitigate the health threat we currently face.  The HEROES Act, which is currently languishing in the Senate, includes those resources. If that is not the vehicle they want, then the Senate has the responsibility to propose another and time is of the essence. 

                                                                                                                                                                                            –Nick Archuleta/North Dakota United

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North Dakota United is the largest professional union of public educators and employees in the state, representing more than 11,500 public school teachers, school staff, university faculty and staff, and city, county and state employees. Our association represents members in the state Capitol, the Legislature, in schools, on college campuses and at worksites across the state, and in our communities, promoting the great public education and great public services that the citizens of North Dakota deserve.