BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order Monday, May 11, that will allow school facilities to reopen for summer programs starting June 1. Local boards and superintendents have the ultimate decision of whether to reopen the facilities and allow students to attend the programs in person.

Burgum called the move a "soft opening" leading up to next school year when the state aims to reopen schools to all students. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler noted that summer school programs must be limited to 15 people and follow other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The governor said 16,500 students attended summer programs in schools last year. Programs schools may offer include driver's education, child care, standardized testing preparation and conventional summer school classes.

Schools may also choose to allow students to return briefly to collect belongings and return materials from May 15 and May 30. Burgum ordered school facilities closed in mid March, and students have been taking distance education courses since the beginning of April.

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Earlier in the day, the state Department of Health announced a Cass County man in his 90s has died from COVID-19. As with every other North Dakota resident who has died from illness, the department reported the man had underlying health conditions.

Thirty-six North Dakotans, including 27 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 80,000 lives nationwide.

The department also confirmed 27 new cases of COVID-19 on 2,145 tests Monday. The high number of tests puts the state back on track toward its goal of completing 1,800 tests per day. The state fell short of the target most of last week. Still, North Dakota ranks among the top states in the country in testing per capita.

Burgum said the state and its health care providers aim to test 4,000 people per day by the end of the month. He has maintained throughout the pandemic that widespread available testing is the key restoring normalcy to work and home life.

The total number of positive tests for the virus in the state is at 1,518, but 846 people have recovered from the illness, including 54 announced Monday. There are 34 residents hospitalized with the illness, up five from Sunday.

Burgum noted Monday that the state will receive a shipment of remdesivir, a widely sought drug, from the federal government via a donation from the drug's developer, Gilead Sciences. The state and its health care companies will be able to treat about 50 patients with the drug that appears to help COVID-19 patients recover at a faster rate.

Sixteen of the new cases Monday came from Cass County, which encompasses Fargo and West Fargo. The county now has 821 known cases, but the department reports that 466 residents have recovered after previously testing positive.

Cass County accounts for more than half of the active COVID-19 cases but only about a fifth of the total tests done in North Dakota. The county also has the highest rate of infection per 100,000 residents in addition to the largest population in the state.

Burgum said Monday half of the COVID-19 testing in North Dakota should be done in Cass County and that the state aims to close the testing disparity in the county this week.

Just two of the new cases came from Grand Forks County, which has the second most cases in the state at 287. The department lists 128 residents of the county as having recovered from the illness.

The other nine new cases Monday came from Burleigh, Stutsman, Dunn, Eddy, Grant, Mercer, Morton and Williams counties. The two new cases in Stutsman, which encompasses Jamestown, bring's the county's total to 15.

A total of 47,014 tests for the virus have been reported by the state, and 39 counties now have had at least one known case of the illness. However, Burgum has previously said that the cases are reported based on patients' mailing addresses rather than their actual location in the state, so it is unknown where infected patients are isolating or seeking medical help.

Nursing home cases climb by 18

The number of cases in residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities increased by 18 on Sunday to 272. Nursing homes are particularly susceptible to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 because many residents are 65 or older and have underlying conditions.

Burgum said Monday he didn't know how many residents of nursing homes had died from COVID-19 in North Dakota.

Nearly 70% of the cases tied to nursing homes have come in Fargo. Villa Maria rehabilitation center in Fargo has the most cases of any facility in the state at 46. There are also 32 cases tied to Rosewood on Broadway, 30 tied to Eventide and 19 tied to Bethany on University.

Four nursing homes in Grand Forks have reported 18 total cases of the illness in the past two weeks, including Valley Senior Living on Columbia with 10 cases and Woodside Village Valley Senior Living with six cases.

Ave Maria Village in Jamestown has reported five known cases of illness, and Edgewood Jamestown confirmed three staff or resident cases. St. Luke's Home and Kensington-Evergreen Senior Living Communities in Dickinson have reported three total cases of the illness.

Burgum said Monday the state is aiming to test every resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility in North Dakota by the end of the week. He noted that testing has been completed at 174 facilities and is scheduled to happen at another 44 facilities.

Two long-term care facilities in Minot and one in Fargo have refused testing from the state, Burgum said Monday. He added that he didn't know the names of the facilities or why they had rejected the state's offer.

An executive order restricting visitation at nursing homes remains in place.

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