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Three more COVID-19 deaths

Drop in oil prices may mean budget cuts for ND

Coronavirus cases continued to rise in the state over the weekend even as oil prices plummeted and threatened the state’s revenue, Gov. Doug Burgum announced during his daily briefing on Monday.

Three more people died of the coronavirus in the state over the weekend, all in Cass County. That brings the total number of coronavirus deaths in the state to 13.

Burgum said there were an additional 42 confirmed positive coronavirus cases out of 1,117 tests that were processed as of Sunday, bringing the total number of positives to 627. Many of the new cases had been identified in Cass County, which currently has 246 positive cases. Grand Forks County now has 138 cases, many of which are associated with employees at the LM Wind Power Plant or with their close contacts. There are 128 positive cases associated with the LM Wind Power Plant, 11 of whom live in Minnesota and are not included in North Dakota numbers.

Employees at the LM Wind Power Plant have been ordered to go into quarantine, whether they have tested positive or not, and the plant has been closed temporarily. Burgum said an employee at the State Mill and Elevator also tested positive for the virus. That man is a roommate of one of the people at LM Wind Power Plant and has also been quarantined for two weeks, as have nine other people who worked with him on the same night shift at the State Mill. The State Mill and Elevator is conducting extensive cleaning before it reopens. Thus far only one person at the State Mill has tested positive and others are undergoing testing.

Some 189 people have recovered from the illness; 17 remain hospitalized.

Some people protested business closures due to the coronavirus outside Burgum’s office in Bismarck on Monday. Burgum said he respects their right to protest and assemble and express their viewpoint and shares their desire to reopen the economy as quickly as possible. However, he said the state needs widespread testing for the coronavirus and contact tracing to identify who has been exposed to the disease before it will be possible to safely reopen the economy. He pointed out that North Dakota’s economy is still largely open, more so than many other states.

Burgum also warned that the state is likely to face an economic challenge it has not faced before if oil prices remain as low as they currently are.

“We will not be able to escape budget cuts if we have $18 oil and production shut in,” said Burgum. “… It would be impossible.”

Burgum said other governors are hoping that more federal funding will be forthcoming to replace lost revenue, but such legislation is so far not forthcoming. Burgum said it would have to be a monumental amount of support for a small state like North Dakota to make up the difference.

He said there are currently no plans to call for a special session of the Legislature to address the expected budget shortfall.

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