North Dakota health officials on Wednesday reported four more coronavirus-related deaths, along with another uptick in active COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, the number of cases of virus variants in North Dakota continues to increase, while the vaccination rate remains stagnant.
The state no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths, but the total number of coronavirus-related deaths on the state Health Department's vaccine dashboard stood at 1,536, four more than Tuesday's total. Burleigh County's total stayed the same at 196, but Morton County's total increased by one, to 102. It was the first reported death in the Bismarck-Mandan area in three weeks.
The new deaths were the first reported statewide in nearly a week. North Dakota has not had four virus-related deaths reported in one day since late April.
The state confirmed 28 new virus cases, raising the pandemic total to 110,926, with 109,201 recoveries and 4,363 hospitalizations. Eleven COVID-19 patients remained in a hospital.
The new cases came from about 2,000 tests completed Tuesday. State officials calculated a positivity rate of 1.45%, and a 14-day rolling average test positivity rate also of 1.45%, in the target range of less than 5%.
Active COVID-19 cases statewide rose to 189, an increase of 36 from Monday. They were relatively stable in Burleigh-Morton, at 32.
Coronavirus variants began surfacing in North Dakota in mid-February, and state officials announced the first case of the fast-spreading delta variant on June 24.
Twenty delta cases have now been confirmed in the state, according to Kirby Kruger, head of the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section.
"The concern with the delta variant is that it is more easily transmitted from person to person and thus has the advantage over the other variants," Kruger said Wednesday. "With the increased transmission potential, it is likely that this will become the predominant variant. The other concern becomes an increasing number of infections that could lead to increases in hospitalization and deaths."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the delta variant makes up about 56% of the viruses circulating in Region 8 -- the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Utah, according to Kruger.
North Dakota's state lab has now identified 1,276 cases of five variants, an increase of more than 18% from three weeks ago. There are 1,092 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 125 of the two California variants, 37 of the the Japan/Brazil variant, two of the South Africa variant and 20 of the delta variant, which has spread around the globe after first being detected in India last December.
The variants have been connected to nearly 100 hospitalizations in North Dakota, including one patient with the delta variant, and seven deaths, none linked to delta, according to Kruger.
All but the California variants are on the CDC's list of "variants of concern" -- a threat level in the middle of "variants of interest" and "variants of high consequence." There are seven in the low category -- including the California variants, which once were variants of concern -- and none in the high. For more information, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.
State health officials say the available COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool to slow the variants, including delta.
But vaccinations have long since plateaued in North Dakota. The state's vaccine dashboard shows 48.6% of eligible North Dakota adults are considered fully vaccinated -- up only about 3% since the beginning of June, and up less than half a percent since the start of July.
"Vaccinations remain highly effective in protecting against disease and severe disease caused by the delta variant," Kruger said.
Nearly 632,800 total doses of the three available COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in North Dakota, with about 92,800 doses in Burleigh-Morton counties, according to the state. North Dakota once was among the top states in the rate of total coronavirus vaccine doses administered. But its current rate of 85,294 people per 100,000 population is higher than only 14 states, according to the CDC tracking site. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that the state has had some of the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the nation.
A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. People can go to health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.
Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.