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New COVID-19 cases reach pandemic high in North Dakota; Burleigh-Morton active cases surge

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Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases set a pandemic record in North Dakota on Wednesday, surpassing a high set in November 2020 before the availability of vaccines.

North Dakota's coronavirus dashboard showed 2,400 new cases from 14,760 tests processed Monday, which also is a record. The previous reported highs were 2,278 cases on Nov. 14, 2020, and 14,462 tests on Nov. 12, 2020. The previous record for tests also was artificially high -- it reflected a “catch-up” day necessitated by a third-party testing lab backlog and a state software problem.

Records are based off the state Health Department's daily reports. The agency often revises data on its dashboard later based on updated information.

The spike in cases this month is driven by the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus, which has spread around the globe and first surfaced in North Dakota in late December. The state's reported 14-day rolling test positivity rate surpassed 14% on Wednesday, nearly double what it was at the start of the month. The state target is less than 5%.

Active cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota have more than tripled from 1,861 reported Jan. 1 to 6,062 on Wednesday, with 1,087 in Burleigh-Morton counties -- their first total in excess of 1,000 since early October. Statewide active cases are still far from the record of 11,656 reported on Nov. 11, 2020, however.

The surge also might not be long-lived. The Associated Press reported this week that scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave might be on the verge of peaking and dropping off dramatically, simply because the variant has proved so wildly contagious that it might be running out of people to infect less than two months after surfacing in South Africa.

Modeling by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates COVID-19 cases in North Dakota could continue rising steeply for three more weeks -- surpassing the peak of late 2020 -- before sharply declining.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have not matched the rapid climb in cases in North Dakota. Health officials say many omicron cases have few or no symptoms.

There were 128 COVID-19 patients in the state on Wednesday, up 13 from the previous day but still relatively stable compared to the past several weeks. As a comparison, North Dakota's reported high was 332 hospitalizations on Nov. 16, 2020.

The most recent state data showed about 8% of staffed inpatient beds available statewide and about 4% of intensive care unit beds open. In Bismarck, neither Sanford Health nor CHI St. Alexius Health had any beds listed in either category.

The Health Department confirmed seven more virus-related deaths, raising North Dakota's pandemic toll to 2,041. The state no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths. The dashboard death total for Burleigh County increased by two, to 286; Morton County's total rose by one, to 133. Cass County, home to Fargo, also saw its total rise by one, to a state-leading 292.

There have been 187,528 confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota during the pandemic that began in March 2020. There have been 179,425 recoveries and 7,097 hospitalizations. 

The Health Department is hosting a virtual town hall at 11 a.m. Central time Thursday to discuss omicron. It's open to the public, online via Microsoft Teams Live Event at https://health.nd.gov/covidtownhall. It also will be simulcast across the Health Department's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. No registration is necessary.

More information

North Dakota continues to have one of the worst COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, according to the CDC. Agency data on Tuesday showed 64.1% of North Dakota adults being fully vaccinated. The rate for all vaccine-eligible people in the state -- age 5 and older -- is 57.2%.

The CDC recommends COVID-19 booster shots for all adults; 44.3% of North Dakota adults have received a third dose of vaccine, according to state data. The federal agency last week also recommended that adolescents ages 12-17 receive boosters as well. North Dakota's Health Department hopes to add booster data for teens to the state vaccine dashboard sometime next week.

The coronavirus transmission risk is considered substantial or high in all of North Dakota's 53 counties except Billings, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker website. The CDC recommends people in those risk categories wear masks in public indoor settings.

People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them. A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. 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.

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

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