According to the data, North Dakota continues to have the highest daily reported cases per-capita in the country. The month of September was the deadliest since the pandemic started in March. Hospitalizations are at an all-time high. The trends are terrible. The data proves it. Doug Burgum can no longer be considered the data-driven Governor. The data shows his approach has failed to meet the moment.

Before your blood pressure boils and you have the urge to scream that I’m some “partisan hack,” let me remind you I credited Burgum for doing what I thought was a good job early on. I said the failure to meet testing requirements wasn’t on the state or Burgum. That failure rested at the feet of President Donald Trump. We now know Trump lied to us about the severity of this virus beginning in February.

Since March, three Public Health Officers have resigned. The latest to resign lasted eleven days. The reason? Burgum threw him under the bus because of political pressure. Not long ago, I asked if these frequent resignations in the Department of Health were because of Burgum’s leadership. It turns out when the curtains were pulled back by leaked emails, it is Burgum with the assist of NDGOP leadership in the Legislature. You think the NDGOP legislator who leaked those legislative emails has it out for Burgum? This can’t be blamed on Washington.

There is a total disconnect between what we’ve heard from people who are right in the middle of this, this morning, and what is being communicated to our populous” -Vern Dosch, ND Department of Health (9/25/2020 Bismarck Tribune)

The same day our third Health Officer resigned under Burgum, hospitals started sounding the alarm. They said they are, “nearing capacity due to the pandemic.” Hospital capacity was a clear metric put in place by the administration in their decision making. At least, that is what we were told when the state dialed back orders to mitigate the spread.

The result of Burgum’s flip-flopping has led to confusion for the public. It has become clear politics – not data – is driving decisions. Politicians in Bismarck are sending mixed signals to scientists and public health professionals trying to save lives. Does that sound familiar?

Though the buck stops with Burgum, let’s not ignore that politicians like Rep. Rick Becker aren’t also pushing narratives. Becker is now seeking to be the next Health Officer. Judging by the quality of his cover-letter, he isn’t a serious contender, but mostly trying to amplify his narrative.

One area I find myself agreeing with Becker is questioning whether or not a $1 million ad campaign is a #NDSmart way to spend tax dollars. That contract was awarded to Odney Advertising. We’re told it is to push a mask educational campaign. Perhaps the new intent will be to clarify for the public the mixed messages Bismarck has sent out over the last few months.

What changed? Was it the expectations of people who trusted Burgum? Confidence in his handling of the pandemic appears to be slipping as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths climb. Was Burgum broken by political pressure from insiders? Will we be able to find a serious candidate willing to take on the role of being the lead health officer? Perhaps only if he commits to listening to the data instead of politicians. Currently, the data says we aren’t doing a good job in this fight.

Tyler Axness
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