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Coronavirus variants increasing in North Dakota; active COVID-19 cases climb again

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New versions of the coronavirus including the fast-spreading delta variant are on the rise in North Dakota, as active cases of COVID-19 continue to climb.

The state Health Department's coronavirus dashboard on Thursday showed 224 active cases statewide -- a fourth straight day of an increase and the highest total in more than a month.

The state confirmed 35 new virus cases from 2,069 tests processed Wednesday and calculated a positivity rate of 1.76%. The 14-day rolling average test positivity rate was at 1.86%, still well within the target range of less than 5%. But that rate and the number of active cases both have been trending upward this month, and health officials believe delta and other variants are contributing to the rise.

Twenty-five delta cases have now been confirmed in the state, up from 20 last week, according to Kirby Kruger, head of the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section. The variant has spread around the globe after first being detected in India last December.

North Dakota's state lab has now identified 1,311 cases of five variants, an increase of 35 from last week. There are 1,099 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 146 of the two California variants, 39 of the the Japan/Brazil variant and two of the South Africa variant.

All but the California variants are on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of "variants of concern" -- a threat level in the middle of "variants of interest" and "variants of high consequence." There are six 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.

The variants have been connected to 100 hospitalizations in North Dakota, including four patients with the delta variant, and more than half a dozen deaths, according to Kruger.

The actual number of variant cases in North Dakota is almost certainly higher than the data indicate. 

Variants are determined through genomic sequencing. That process essentially entails taking a positive COVID-19 sample and doing further genetic research. Lab officials look for certain things in a sample that indicate it should be investigated further. The State Lab so far has sequenced 3,526 samples, with successful results on 2,906 of them, according to Kruger.

"When you look at the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in North Dakota, the number that has been sequenced is just a fraction of that number," he said.

The state has confirmed 111,127 virus cases during the pandemic, with 109,365 recoveries, 1,538 deaths and 4,375 hospitalizations. No new deaths were reported Thursday. Thirteen COVID-19 patients remained in a hospital, up two from the previous day.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate for North Dakota adults plateaued weeks ago and remains under 50%. State health officials are imploring unvaccinated residents to get a shot, to help guard against another pandemic spike. During the last one, late last year, new daily cases in the state reached as high as 2,278, hospitalizations peaked at 332, and active cases hit 11,656.

"We know the delta variant is in our state, and from what other states are experiencing the delta variant has contributed to increases in cases in those states," Kruger said. "National surveillance is also trending upwards for cases, hospitalizations and deaths."

More information

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 blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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