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Delta variant beginning to surge in North Dakota; Burleigh-Morton has 300th death

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Cases of the highly contagious and fast-spreading coronavirus delta variant are surging in North Dakota, as they are around the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, state officials confirmed another virus-related death in Burleigh County -- the 300th pandemic death in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

Confirmed delta cases in North Dakota have quadrupled in the past week -- from 33 to 153, according to Kirby Kruger, head of the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section. The increase mirrors a trend across the country, where hospitals in some areas are returning to crisis mode as cases spike.

“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this week.

The CDC has described delta as being as transmissible as chickenpox, and said it is responsible for the bulk of new COVID-19 cases. New cases nationwide are now averaging more than 70,000 a day -- above the peak last summer before vaccines became available, according to The Associated Press.

Cases have begun to spike in North Dakota. Active cases statewide have jumped 50% since the start of this week, to 683 on Friday. They've jumped 67% in Burleigh-Morton counties this week, to 185.

The state's coronavirus dashboard identified 119 new cases Friday -- the third triple-digit figure reported this week, after none since May. State officials calculated a 14-day rolling average test positivity rate of 3.75%. That's within the target range of less than 5%, but the rate has risen or remained unchanged for 16 straight days. COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped to 18, after rising five straight days.

"Our cases, test positivity and hospitalizations are trending in the wrong direction," Kruger said.

That's driven in part by variants. North Dakota's state lab has now identified 1,489 cases of five variants, an increase of 149 from last week. In addition to the 153 cases of the delta variant that was first identified in India, there are 1,121 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 170 of the two California variants, 41 of the the Japan/Brazil variant and four of the South Africa variant.

The actual number of variant cases in North Dakota is almost certainly higher than the data indicate, since only a fraction of virus test samples undergo the more complex process through which variants are determined. Kruger said the dramatic increase in delta cases is due entirely to the variant's increased prevalence, and not to increased testing.

"The increase in the delta variant is concerning," Kruger said, though he added, "With the increased infectiousness of the variant and with the data published by the CDC, it was not entirely unexpected."

State officials have now linked delta to one death, along with 18 hospitalizations. Total variant-related confirmed deaths are at 12, with hospitalizations at 127.

"We are continuing to encourage people to learn about the vaccines available that help protect against infections and serious disease and to choose to be vaccinated," Kruger said.

About 654,000 total doses of the three available COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in North Dakota, with about 96,600 doses in Burleigh-Morton counties, according to the state's vaccine dashboard. It shows 49.7% of eligible North Dakota adults are considered fully vaccinated; 19.7% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated. The adult percentage has increased less than half a percent this week.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been 112,169 confirmed virus cases in North Dakota, with 109,944 recoveries, 4,414 hospitalizations and 1,542 deaths.

The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. That's calculated based on new cases per capita and testing results. In North Dakota there are 22 counties in those two categories, including Burleigh-Morton, according to the agency's COVID-19 data tracker website.

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.

For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html. For information on county-level virus transmission risks, go to https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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