COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped significantly in North Dakota on Tuesday, but state health officials also reported 10 new virus-related deaths.
That brought the state's pandemic death toll to 1,652, with 41 deaths reported just since the start of October. Death certificate filings can take up to 10 days under state law, meaning some of those deaths occurred in September. The typical lag in the reporting of COVID-19 deaths to the state Health Department is one to three days.
Deaths have increased the past couple of months amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. There were 59 confirmed virus-related deaths in North Dakota in September -- 13 more than in the previous three months combined, according to the department's coronavirus dashboard.
Not all of the COVID-19 deaths reported by the state are due directly to the disease. The breakdown is about 83% of deaths being due to COVID-19, and 17% in which the disease was present but not the primary cause of death.
The Health Department no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths, but the total for Burleigh County on the department's virus dashboard increased by one, to 222. Morton County's total remained unchanged, at 105.
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COVID-19 hospitalizations also have increased the past couple of months, hitting a high for this year of 211 on Monday. The total dropped by 30 on Tuesday, to 181 -- the largest one-day decline reported so far this year. Health Department spokesman Paul Teeple attributed the sharp decrease to "deaths and discharges."
Tuesday's total is still relatively high. As a comparison, at the start of August the reported number was 12.
Hospitalizations typically lag a week or two behind community spread. Dr. Avish Nagpal, an infectious disease physician at Sanford Health in Fargo, told Prairie Public that it could be weeks or even months before the surge in hospitalizations improves. He said medical staff is exhausted, and burnout is a significant concern.
"What typically happens with any kind of surge, you have to delay a number of clinic visits and surgeries just to get more staff into the hospital to take care of patients," he said. "By the time you get caught up with the backlog of care, you get another surge. Even though the rest of the world has returned to normal, or kind of normal, health care workers continue to deal with COVID on a daily basis."
The most recent state data showed 200 available staffed inpatient beds and 13 available intensive care unit beds statewide. In Bismarck, neither Sanford Health nor CHI St. Alexius Health had any beds listed in either category for a second straight day.
Fewer than 10% of staffed inpatient beds statewide were available Tuesday. The Health Department no longer includes the percentage on its daily dashboard, instead posting a link to the state bed data, which shows individual totals for medical facilities across the state.
"The available beds was updated to provide citizens with access to information about hospital capacity in their area, and also to illustrate the level of care available at each facility," Teeple said. "This format allows citizens to make informed decisions about what hospital capacity means for them and provides context that was missing from providing only numerical data."
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been 5,540 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, from 138,902 confirmed cases; 133,386 people are deemed by the state to have recovered from the illness.
There were 725 new cases confirmed from 8,720 tests completed Monday, for a positivity rate of 9.04%. The state's 14-day rolling average test positivity rate dropped just under 8% but remained well above the state target of less than 5%.
Active virus cases rose Tuesday by 128, to 3,864 statewide, with 890 in Burleigh-Morton counties.
The state's vaccine dashboard shows 54.1% of eligible North Dakota adults and 31.9% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated. North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.
The coronavirus transmission risk is considered substantial or high in all 53 North Dakota counties, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker website. The CDC recommends people in those risk categories wear masks in public indoor settings.
A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus. For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.
Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or email@example.com.