Cavalier County had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 just a few short weeks ago, and in that time frame the number has now reached the teens with more expected to be identified in the coming weeks. Cavalier County Public Health District has been diligently informing the public on the steps that can be taken to protect themselves.
“The top priority of our office is responding to the public health needs of our community. COVID has taught us that meeting that goal can be an evolving, ever-changing target,” Steph Welsh, RN, said. “Public health, as a whole, is working hard to do the things we are learning work to lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
The first confirmed case in the United States occurred in late January with the virus spreading rapidly across the country. North Dakota reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in mid-March. Since then, the state has tested nearly 130,000 individuals with reported cases quickly nearing the 5,000 mark. Around the globe, nations have experienced a steady and sometimes rapid rise in cases. This has scientists playing catch up to try and stay in step with their research on the virus as well as the development of protocols, medical treatment, and, hopefully, a vaccine.
“This is a new virus to our world population so, unfortunately, that means we are sometimes learning and adapting as we go,” Welsh said.
With information on the virus sometimes changing daily, there are still specific strategies that are proven to work to lower the risk of transmission that is now more important than ever to practice. These practices include social distancing; decreasing your number of close contacts; practicing good hand washing; avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes; wearing a mask in public when social distancing cannot be maintained; and, most importantly, staying home when you are sick.
“I think it is important for individuals to be vigilant in these practices no matter where you are because practicing these measures only in places that you think are "hot spots" can lull you into a false sense of security putting yourself and others at risk for obtaining and spreading COVID,” Welsh said.
One of the first cases to be confirmed was Cavalier County Commissioner Stanley Dick. The reason that Dick was tested was a result of slight symptoms and the desire to travel out-of-state to see family. The symptoms he experienced were a mild fever and dull headache.
“At that point in Cavalier County, there had been only been one positive test so even when I met with the nurse practitioner, she didn't think I had it. My symptoms weren't strong, strong. She checked my lungs, and everything checked out pretty normal. She went ahead and did the test,” Dick explained.
In looking back to the weeks leading up to the positive test, Dick explained that he has no idea where he could have gotten it from. In the days leading up to his diagnosis, Dick had been doing some traveling outside of the Munich area, visiting Langdon for county business, and been to Cando for a golf game. Dick recounts that prior to symptoms developing, he had been working in his grain bins shoveling corn, which usually leads to similar symptoms that are gone by morning.
“We were shoveling corn, and you know when we shovel grain- there is dust and mold in the air. There have been a lot of times I've done it myself and at night you get kind of the chills and maybe a slight fever and because of the dust you get coughy and maybe achy a little bit. That's what I had, not that I felt really sick, but yeah, it's probably from the corn dust cause I was in the bin when we were loading corn,” Dick recounted.
Over the weekend, the symptoms did not go away. On Monday, he sought medical care that resulted in being tested for COVID with the positive result arriving on Wednesday. By that time his fever had gone, but the headache he experienced continued for another week. Having COVID impacted Dick's life in a few ways such as being quarantined which were to be expected. However, there has been an unexpected impact.
“There is a lot of rumors that I'd been here and I'd been there and I'd been all these different places. None of that is true. When I got the test positive I obeyed to the “t” what the state health department suggested - which was quarantine,” Dick said. “One thing I did do that maybe caused some consternation is I was in my pickup cause we are doing a graveling project. “
Dick remained in his vehicle and did not speak to anyone. He had received permission from County Health to do that. Even so, Dick shared that many comments that were directed toward him accused him of intentionally spreading the virus.
“When I was officially cleared as recovered (Monday, July 6) the first time I was out in the public was later Tuesday afternoon, and I was thoroughly chastised for being in a business. I thought “wow” and explained to them that I am considered recovered, but it didn't make any difference,” Dick explained.
Dick reached out to Welsh at County Health to ask for assistance in handling future encounters. He received a letter from public health explaining that he was considered recovered and no longer able to spread the virus. Dick still carries the letter with him when he goes out in public.
“I went to Langdon to a number of businesses to get parts and do things which I needed to do because I was considered cleared. Carried the letter with me, went into the business, and right away - same reaction, handed them the letter and once they read it - they were fine,” Dick shared.
This experience was repeated at every location that Dick needed to visit where he would need to have others read the letter before he could conduct his business. Even so, Dick feels that many do not believe the letter simply because they know he had it and feel he is still contagious.
“There is so much information out there. We are human beings, and there is no absolute for health in human beings. But as far as the State Health Department is concerned, I'm probably as safe a person to be around as anybody,” Dick said.
“Right now, to be totally honest, the Munich area is hot. There is a lot of people that have it, but they are eventually going to get back into society and how are we going to treat these people? I mean, we still have to live our lives, and we still got to function in society and society has to function around us.”
Dick points out that the prevention measures that are promoted by public health still need to be followed. That common sense measures of social distancing and staying home if you feel even remotely sick need to be done, but community members need to remember that those who are tested positive will be well and return to their activities. While Dick was not one to adhere to the mask guideline, he is not against those who do wear one. Overall, after his experience, Dick asks the communities in Cavalier County to not live in fear or fear those who have been confirmed as having COVID.
At Cavalier County Public Health, Welsh and the staff are continuing to educate and promote the prevention measures to the residents as the most effective way to reduce the spread of COIVD-19.
“While some of these prevention measures are not always perceived as being popular, they are, in general, low cost, low risk and easy to implement. It is important to note - until we have a vaccine available they are the only interventions we have right now to prevent the spread of this disease,” Welsh stated.