Coronavirus-related deaths in North Dakota have hit 40, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday as Gov. Doug Burgum met with President Donald Trump about the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus hot spot of Cass County saw another big jump in cases and two more deaths, health officials reported. But there also was a substantial increase in the number of recoveries statewide on Tuesday, and active cases fell for the fifth time in six days.
Burgum, a Republican, was invited earlier this week to appear at the White House on Wednesday, along with Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Trump during a press conference asked each governor about his state's reopening efforts.
Burgum highlighted North Dakota's rates of positive tests and testing per capita, which are among the best in the country, and also credited the state's geography and its residents with helping stem the spread of the virus. He referenced placing restrictions that have since been lifted on food and drink businesses and shutting down personal care services such as hair salons and massage businesses, but stressed that "everybody else kept going -- all of construction, all of energy, all of ag."
"We had less to worry about opening up because we never really closed down," Burgum said.
Trump earlier in the press conference made remarks that clashed with two of Burgum's coronavirus-related executive orders -- that schools should reopen, and that mail-in ballots are subject to corruption and cheating. North Dakota's schools are remaining closed the rest of the academic year, though Burgum is allowing school buildings to be used for summer programming, with proper precautions. The state's June election is being conducted entirely by mail-in ballot, after Burgum allowed counties to opt out of a requirement that they open at least one physical polling location.
Burgum's spokesman did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment.
White House officials during the day took to Twitter to tout federal coronavirus relief aid that has flowed to North Dakota, including $510.5 million in stimulus payments for residents, $1.8 billion in emergency loans for small businesses, and millions of items of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
The positive rate of the 1,113 tests handled by state and private labs Tuesday and reported Wednesday was 6.8%, double North Dakota's overall rate of 3.4% since testing began in mid-March. There were 1,113 tests and 76 new positives, raising the state's total case number to 1,647.
Sixty-nine of the new cases are in Cass County, where deaths went from 29 to 31 with the deaths of two women in their 90s with underlying health conditions. Five deaths have been reported in the county this week.
The state categorizes statewide deaths this way: 29 cases in which COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death, four deaths in which the disease was not the primary cause, and seven cases in which an official death record has not yet been filed. That can take up to 14 days under state law.
Burleigh and Morton counties each had one additional positive case reported Wednesday, raising their totals to 106 and 38, respectively. Other new cases were in Grand Forks and Walsh counties, in the northeast.
A total of 127 people statewide have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, up five from the previous day; 37 remained so on Tuesday, down 1. Burgum has stressed that coronavirus hospitalizations represent only a small fraction of the state's hospital capacity.
There were 92 new recoveries reported Wednesday, raising that total to 969 and lowering active cases by 18, to 638.
State and private labs have tested 48,945 people for COVID-19, with 47,298 being negative.
Most people who get COVID-19 recover, experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. Others, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, can experience more severe illness, including pneumonia.
More information on the coronavirus and COVID-19 can be found at: www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.
Trump and Burgum briefly chatted about the national champion North Dakota State University football team.
The team was to visit the White House but “because of the plague we didn’t have those great people,” Trump said. “But we’ll do a rain check.”
Burgum responded that “they would love to get back here with a rain check.”
The team visited the White House in 2019, after winning the title last year. The Bison have won eight of the last nine NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles.
Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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