In a crisis exacerbated by a shortage of healthcare workers and a lack of virus-curbing measures from the state’s Republican leadership, North Dakota is battling the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 1 in every 1,000 residents now dead from the virus.
North Dakota reached the morbid milestone on Tuesday, reporting 26 new deaths, which brought the state’s total to 769 out of a population of roughly 762,000, according to the 2019’s census estimate.
A day earlier, analysis published by the Federation of American Scientists showed that last week North Dakota had the highest Covid-19 mortality rate of any other state or country in the world at 18.2 deaths per million.
The majority of North Dakota’s deaths and cases (which have now left around 1 in 12 residents infected with the virus) came in the past two months.
As a result, the state is facing a concerning shortage of intensive care beds—in early November, North Dakota’s department of health reported just 12 open ICU beds in the entire state—and health care workers.
These staff shortages prompted Gov. Doug Burgum (R) to order healthcare workers who tested positive for the virus but aren’t showing symptoms to still report for work.
President of Access Health International Dr. William Haseltine called the situation in North Dakota “as bad as it gets anywhere in the world,” criticizing the state’s leadership for refusing to institute lifesaving measures and restrictions.
Until last Friday, when the state reported a new daily record for hospitalizations and infections, Burgum had refused to order a mask mandate in North Dakota, consistently emphasizing the importance of a “light touch” from the government in handling the pandemic. Meanwhile, healthcare professionals and community leaders in the state had advocated for restrictions for months. When the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited the city of Bismarck last month, she described the state’s Covid-19 protocols and mask usage as the worst she’d seen anywhere in the country.
“Our situation has changed,” Burgum said when announcing the mask mandate. “We believe in North Dakotans. We believe in the power of individual responsibility. And we need individual responsibility now more than ever to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
What To Watch For
If North Dakota continues to report Covid-19 deaths at the same rate for the next few months, it is on track to overtake New Jersey as the deadliest state in the pandemic.