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Local hospitals nearing capacity due to pandemic

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Sanford Health Bismarck will use a local nursing home to help treat some COVID-19 patients as cases continue to rise in the region. 

Local health care workers sounded the alarm on diminishing hospital capacity at Friday's Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force meeting.

Employees for Sanford Health and CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck said that an increasing number of COVID-19 cases are taking up hospital resources.

Dr. David Field told the task force that Sanford held nine patients in the emergency room Thursday night because there weren't enough beds to admit them.

"We have to take care of our COVID folks, but it's starting to displace our other care," Field said.

Raumi Kudrna of CHI St. Alexius Health said the hospital has 25 to 30 COVID-19 patients a day on average and admits one new patient for every one discharged.

She also said that this week the hospital had to defer elective procedures that would require hospitalization.

"This is huge, and this is not just happening in Burleigh-Morton counties," Kudrna said. "People don't quite understand until they have a loved one who needs health care or hospitalization just how stretched our resources are right now."

Vern Dosch, who heads the contact tracing effort for the state, said the Department of Health's dashboard data on hospital capacity doesn't fully reflect hospital capacity concerns in the community. The dashboard only shows data for hospitalizations statewide.

"There is a total disconnect between what we've heard from people who are right in the middle of this, this morning, and what is being communicated to our populous," Dosch said. He added that access to hospital care cannot be limited and said lack of hospital access was one factor in the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

Task force members said they were surprised to learn about the state of local hospitals. University of Mary Executive Vice President Jerome Richter said he was shocked to learn the hospitals were this busy because when he checks his Care19 app, the hospitalization numbers seem good.

"The governor every week is telling us the hospitals are fine," Morton County Public Information Officer Maxine Herr said. "We've got to get on the same message."

Task force members also addressed recent COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Health care professionals said those cases are being brought into facilities from employees or visitors who contract the virus out in the community.

Visitors to hospitals and long-term care facilities aren't monitored the entire time they visit patients, Dr. Noe Mateo of Sanford Health said. Once they're inside a patient's room, visitors might take off their masks or not follow social distancing guidelines.

"We like to think that hospitals and clinics are fortresses, but not against this virus," Mateo said. "It's going to go wherever it wants to."

Eight new deaths reported

Coronavirus in North Dakota Active

The North Dakota Department of Health reported eight new deaths Friday, including three in Burleigh and Morton counties, as the state reached another record number of active COVID-19 cases.

The department reported the deaths of a woman in her 80s and a man in his 90s from Burleigh County, and a man in his 90s from Morton County, all with underlying health conditions. The deaths of a man and a woman in their 70s from Ward County and three Stark County women, one in her 60s, one in her 70s and one in her 90s were also reported. All had underlying conditions. There have been 219 deaths related to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The health department also reported 436 new active cases, bringing the total number of active cases to a new high of 3,562. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 19,885 people have tested positive and 16,104 have recovered. The state reported 347 recoveries yesterday.

Eighty-nine people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.

The Department of Health reported 34 new cases in Burleigh County, 23 in Morton, 57 in Cass County, 48 in Grand Forks County, 101 in Stark County, nine in Ward County and 36 in Williams County. Burleigh County has 684 active cases, Morton County has 276, Cass County has 543, Grand Forks County has 251, Stark County has 379, Ward County has 184 and Williams County has 234.

The number of tests completed Thursday totals 5,814, bringing the number of tests processed since the start of the pandemic to 609,021.

Emergency declaration extended

The Bismarck City Commission on Tuesday approved an extension of Bismarck's coronavirus-related emergency declaration.

The initial declaration came on March 15. It’s been extended five times since then. It’s a necessary step to getting state and federal aid. The declaration will be in effect until mid-October.

Gov. Doug Burgum and President Donald Trump also have declared emergencies due to the pandemic.

Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or

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