nddes insights February 2021

First cases of COVID-19 variant confirmed in North Dakota

The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) announced this month the new variant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in the United Kingdom was identified by genomic sequencing in positive specimens from two individuals in North Dakota. Both cases were identified by the NDDoH Public Health Laboratory.

The results were confirmed on Tuesday, Feb. 16. One individual had recently returned from domestic travel before becoming ill and the second individual was a close contact of the first. Both were interviewed by contact tracers at the time their initial positive results were received and close contacts were identified.

One additional case is suspected to be the UK variant and is currently under investigation.

“Surveillance testing for the variant has been ongoing at the North Dakota Public Health Lab and in collaboration with other diagnostic laboratories,” said Dr. Christie Massen, Public Health Lab Director. Surveillance consists of genomic sequencing on portions of COVID-19 positive specimens.
“This variant strain is thought to be more contagious which reinforces the importance of continuing to wear a mask, physical distancing, staying home when you’re sick, getting tested, and quarantining when you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive,” said Kirby Kruger, Disease Control Director for the NDDoH. “Getting the vaccine when it’s your turn is another great way to prevent the spread of the variant strain.”

Preliminary studies have indicated the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective against the UK variant strain.

This variant strain of the virus was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020 and has been found in numerous countries around the world, including the United States. To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 1,173 cases from 41 states. For more information, see CDC: New COVID-19 Variants.

NDDES, NDSU strengthen partnership through professional development opportunities for students

NDSU student selected as new hire for NDDES Planning Section

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services welcomed its newest team member in January through collaboration with North Dakota State University’s Department of Emergency Management. Marcus Rehder was recently hired to work for the agency as a planning specialist, while completing his bachelor’s degree in emergency management. In this role, Rehder supports the development of local and state multi-hazard mitigation plans, the improvement of state recovery plans and mitigation integration initiatives by local, tribal and state planning teams.

Rehder’s employment with NDDES is the latest development in a collaborative partnership agreement co-signed by the agency and NDSU in 2018.

“We are so thankful to have a strong partnership with NDDES,” said Jessica Jensen, head of NDSU’s department of emergency management. “We are both committed to serving the citizens of North Dakota and continually exploring how to support one another in doing that.”

NDDES has routinely offered opportunities to NDSU students, even during the state’s COVID-19 response. Four students worked as interns, assisting NDDES’s Planning and Response Sections, as well as the Joint Information Center to coordinate and release public information. Another five students worked as administrative professionals, recording minutes from important virtual meetings hosted online so response staff could reference the notes when absent for other duties.

Rehder’s hire represents the first time an undergraduate has been recruited directly from NDSU’s emergency management department to work at the agency full-time.

“This was a unique way of supporting our existing agreement with NDSU by not only hiring one of its emergency management students, but to further develop them as a professional for future positions,” said Sean Johnson, NDDES Planning Section Chief. “By advertising the opening through the university, in addition to our regular recruiting methods, we were able to interview very good candidates with a lot of potential. Now, we can work with Marcus and give him the experience that goes with his educational background.”

Rehder will finish classes at NDSU while working remotely using online technology to perform his duties at NDDES.

“The ability to practically apply what I have learned during my time at both NDSU and NDDES has allowed for tremendous growth as a professional in the emergency management field,” Rehder said. “NDDES has been very flexible, allowing me to work from home and maintain my commitments as a student. My hope is to grow in this space of continual learning and progress within the public sector after graduation.”

Offering undergraduate and graduate degrees since 2003, NDSU’s emergency management program educates students about hazards, what makes us vulnerable to them, and how we might best cope with hazard events. Graduates from the program work throughout the state and region in government agencies, school districts, hospitals, businesses and nonprofits as emergency management planners/specialists, continuity planners, safety specialists and more.

mitigation matters: NDDES Initiates Plan Developers Meetings

About 60 participants attended the first ever virtual Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan Developers meeting on Feb. 17.

NDDES initiated the meetings as part of mitigation outreach and education for emergency managers, plan developers and local-tribal planning teams.

“We want to ensure our local and tribal planning teams have the best available information to conduct a thorough analysis of hazards and threats facing their communities,” said Sean Johnson, NDDES Plans Chief. “Future meetings will focus on planning tools, grants management and ideas for integrating mitigation plans into other planning mechanisms.”

During the meeting, Laura Horner, RiskMAP coordinator for the N.D. State Water Commission, demonstrated how the Risk Assessment MapService (NDRAM) serves as a useful resource tool for development of mitigation plans. NDRAM is a tool designed by the Water Commission that allows users to visually display current flood risks, both approximate floodplains from base level engineering and effective regulatory floodplains from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). To find out more, visit ndram.swc.nd.gov or email Laura Horner at lmhorner@nd.gov or call 701-328-2759.

Todd Joersz, State Hazard Mitigation Officer at NDDES, also discussed mitigation grant opportunities currently available through the Hazard Mitigation Assistance program for which NDDES currently is accepting applications. Learn more at www.des.nd.gov/recovery/unified-hazard-mitigation-grant-assistance or email Todd Joersz at tjoersz@nd.gov or call 701-328-8261.

The planning staff also highlighted the availability of the first virtual G318: How to Write a Mitigation Plan course. Attendees were given options to attend either morning or afternoon sessions on March 23, March 25, March 30 and April 1. Local communities, state representatives and the FEMA Region VIII Mitigation Planning Team will share stories and showcase resources available to assist in developing effective mitigation planning to reduce long-term risk from natural hazards and disasters. Click here to register on Eventbrite.

Help your family, friends, and neighbors connect with a COVID-19 vaccine provider

As vaccinations continue to be administered across North Dakota, many areas are beginning to vaccinate 65 and older. The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is encouraging North Dakotans to help family, friends and neighbors who are 65 and older connect with a COVID-19 vaccine. Whether it’s getting on a waiting list or scheduling an appointment, you can help someone in need of COVID-19 vaccine receive it as quickly as possible.

There are multiple ways to help connect someone you know with a COVID-19 vaccine. The first is the Vaccine Locator on the NDDoH website. The vaccine locator shows where COVID-19 vaccine is available in your area, who they are currently vaccinating, how to contact them, and more. The vaccine locator can be found at www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator. In addition, individuals 65 and older who don’t have access to the internet can reach out to the Public Health Hotline at to get resources and request assistance in finding a COVID-19 vaccine.

Thrifty White Pharmacy is receiving federal doses of COVID-19 vaccine beginning this week. Visit the Thrifty White Pharmacy website to see if there’s a Thrifty White Pharmacy near you with vaccine available and clinic slots open.

“It’s possible that you may not be able to receive your vaccine from your usual provider,” said Molly Howell, Immunization Program Director for the NDDoH. “North Dakotans should check the vaccine locator for doses available in their area and follow the instructions provided by the provider.”

North Dakotans should also continue to watch their local media and social media channels for health care facilities, pharmacies and local public health departments for more information on the status of vaccine administration in their area.

For more information, visit the NDDoH COVID-19 vaccine webpage at health.nd.gov/covidvaccine.

North Dakota reached a vaccination milestone on Feb. 24, surpassing 200,000 doses administered. About 16 percent of North Dakota residents have received one dose of vaccine while 9 percent have had two doses.