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New cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota rise; officials warn about delta variant
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New cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota rise; officials warn about delta variant

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North Dakota health officials on Tuesday confirmed 48 new cases of COVID-19 -- the highest daily number in nearly six weeks -- and they issued a statement imploring state residents to take precautions and get vaccinated as the new delta variant spreads across the globe.

Active virus cases also jumped, rising above 200 statewide and above 50 in Burleigh-Morton counties. The totals of 205 and 52, respectively, were the highest in about a month.

State officials calculated a positivity rate of 4.62% from 1,067 tests processed Monday. The 14-day rolling average test positivity rate was at 1.88%. That's still well within the target range of less than 5%, but the rate has been trending upward this month.

Health officials around the country have expressed worry about the impact of the new fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus. An estimated 83% of new cases in the U.S. are tied to the variant that was first detected in India last December, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in Senate testimony Tuesday.

North Dakota officials announced the first case of the delta variant in the state on June 24. It has since been confirmed in 19 other people, one of whom was hospitalized.

"Given that this variant is much more highly transmissible, it may be playing a role in the increased infection rate observed within the state in the last 14 days," said Grace Njau, special projects and health analytics director for the Health Department. 

Kirby Kruger, head of the department's disease control division and forensic pathology section, said the delta variant could lead to "more cases of COVID-19, increased hospitalizations and potentially more deaths.”

“Of particular concern with the delta variant is that it appears this variant is affecting younger populations,” he said.

Reports out of the United Kingdom are showing that children and adults ages 5-49 are 2 ½ times more likely to become infected with the delta variant compared with those 50 or older. With children under 12 not yet able to get vaccinated, it is important for those who are able to get a shot to do so as soon as possible, the Health Department urged.

“Early research shows the vaccines available in the United States -- Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson -- do offer protection against the delta variant,” State Immunization Director Molly Howell said. “On the contrary, people who have not been fully vaccinated, or those who are only partially vaccinated ... are at highest risk of being infected by the delta variant.”

The new cases reflected on the state's coronavirus dashboard bring North Dakota's pandemic total to 111,067, with 109,325 recoveries, 1,537 deaths and 4,369 hospitalizations. No new deaths were confirmed Tuesday. Ten COVID-19 patients remained in a hospital, up one from the previous day.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate for North Dakota adults plateaued weeks ago and remains under 50%. Health experts believe a minimum 70% is needed for herd immunity. The rates for younger adults are even lower -- about 37% for the 30-39 age group, about 30% for the 19-29 age group and just under 18% for the 12-18 age group, according to the state's vaccine dashboard

"COVID-19 cases are about eight times more prevalent in unvaccinated individuals compared to those who are fully vaccinated in North Dakota,” Njau said.

Town hall

The Health Department will host a virtual “Ask a Doctor” Town Hall at 1 p.m. Central time Wednesday with doctors from across the state to discuss COVID-19 vaccines and fertility.

Members of the public can view the live event at http://health.nd.gov/covidtownhall and submit questions to the doctors. Advance registration is not required.

Social media posts claiming that COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility in women have spread rapidly. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no evidence that any vaccines, including coronavirus vaccines, cause female or male fertility problems.

Doctors scheduled to take part in the town hall are State Health Officer Nizar Wehbi, Stephanie Foughty with Altru Health System in Devils Lake, Christina Broadwell with Sanford Health in Fargo, and Ana Tobiasz with Sanford Health in Bismarck.

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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