- Associated Press - Thursday, July 2, 2020

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Taking over North Dakota’s health department in the middle of the coronavirus has been a whirlwind for Dr. Andrew Stahl, who said Thursday that his busy schedule has not allowed him time to appear in public.

Stahl took over as interim health officer in late May for Mylynn Tufte, who resigned without explanation. Stahl, an officer in the North Dakota Army National Guard’s Medical Corps since 2009, served on the Guard’s COVID-19 task force before joining Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration.

“Starting a new job at any time is challenging but starting during a global pandemic does add a different dimension,” said Stahl, who declined an interview request and instead responded to questions by email. “I’ve had great team members both in and out of the health department who have taken adequate time to acquaint me with programs and process.”

Stahl has yet to appear at any of Burgum’s briefings, which were held several times a week at the start of pandemic and have been cut back to once a week. Burgum’s last update came on June 23, the day before active virus cases in the state went on a nine-day rise. Active cases rose from 319 to 342 in the last day, health officials said Thursday.

“Protecting the health and safety of North Dakota during the pandemic has been a more than full time responsibility, so while I look forward to participating in the news conferences in the future, working with the team to address COVID-19 has been a priority for me at this point,” Stahl said.

Officials confirmed 43 new cases of the coronavirus in the last day for a statewide total of 3,657, including 17 in Cass County, which includes Fargo. Cass, the state’s most active county by far, has seen 2,260 total cases and currently has 123 active cases.

Stahl said the health department and a task force formed by Burgum in early May have combined to help control the spread of COVID-19 in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota area.

“We’re monitoring the data very closely and the data shows the work they’re doing is working and we’re seeing significant improvement,” Stahl said. “This success can be largely attributed to the proactive nature of the task force, the large-scale and focused testing events they’ve done, and their commitment to contact tracing.”

Two factors that health experts gauge to manage the virus continue to be in North Dakota’s favor. The death toll, now at 80, has grown slowly and the victims have been mostly elderly people with underlying health conditions. Hospitalizations have dropped below 20 for the first time since April 26.

Stahl said the state has taken a measured approach that has kept the safety of citizens in the forefront.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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