Variant coronavirus strains are increasing in North Dakota, as overall cases of COVID-19 continue to spike.
The state lab as of Thursday had identified 35 cases of variants, according to Kirby Kruger, director of the Health Department's Disease Control Division: 13 of the strain first identified in the United Kingdom, 20 of the two new strains first identified in California, and the first case of the strain identified in South Africa. That case involved a person who had traveled to the African country.
The total is triple what it was in mid-March, but not unexpected.
"I think we expected that we would see more of this, especially as people are out and about more," Kruger said.
All of the people infected by the variants have since recovered. The state did not identify them or say where they are from, citing privacy.
The U.K. and South African variants are considered about 50% more infectious than the regular COVID-19 strain, and the California strains are about 20% more infectious. Available vaccines are expected to be effective against all of the variants.
"At least they're very effective at preventing severe infection, and hospitalizations and deaths," Kruger said.
By the time the state lab identifies a variant case, the infected person has already recovered.
"This is why it's so important for people to follow protocols" and stay home when infected, Kruger said. "We want people to take the proper precautions."
For more information on variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.
The state Health Department on Thursday reported 208 more cases of COVID-19, raising the pandemic total to 103,299, with 100,612 recoveries, 3,943 hospitalizations and 1,466 deaths.
COVID-19 hospitalizations remained relatively stable at 21, and no new coronavirus-related deaths were reported for a sixth straight day.
But active cases of the virus statewide took another big jump, rising by 81 to 1,221. In Burleigh-Morton counties, active cases rose for a fourth straight day, to 146. The increase from a week ago is 38% statewide and 53% regionally.
Kruger attributes the recent spike to pandemic fatigue, spring weather and public gatherings. The state is urging people to limit the size of Easter gatherings.
The state calculated a positivity rate of 4.05% from 6,757 tests completed Wednesday.
Nearly 413,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed in North Dakota, to nearly 239,000 people. Two of the three available vaccines require two doses, weeks apart.
All North Dakota counties are in the green "low" risk level on the state's five-level color-coded system. The risk level determines coronavirus-related protocols in place under the ND Smart Restart Plan for everything from businesses to family gatherings. Those protocols are not enforced. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/38npUYV.
The state's COVID-19 Smart Restart County Analysis data dashboard can be accessed at www.health.nd.gov/healthmetrics. A list of free 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 email@example.com.