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New COVID-19 cases remain low in North Dakota, but so does vaccination rate

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Molly Howell, the North Dakota Department of Health's immunization program manager

North Dakota health officials continue to document few new cases of COVID-19, but the state's vaccination rate remains low as a new coronavirus variant that's gaining a foothold around the country emerges in the state.

Only 22 new virus cases were confirmed Friday, and just under 100 have been confirmed all week. As a comparison, the Health Department reported 2,278 newly confirmed cases on Nov. 14 alone -- the high point for the state.

At that time, daily tests routinely totaled more than 10,000. Weekday testing has rarely surpassed 3,000 in recent weeks.

The newly confirmed cases on the state's coronavirus dashboard Friday were from 2,010 tests completed Thursday. The state calculated a daily positivity rate of 1.53% and a 14-day rolling average test positivity rate of 1.66%, in the target range of less than 5%.

Since the onset of the pandemic in North Dakota in March 2020, there have been 110,644 confirmed virus cases, with 108,9147 recoveries, 4,343 hospitalizations and 1,527 deaths. No new deaths were confirmed Friday, and only 13 COVID-19 patients remained in a hospital. As a comparison, the high point for reported hospitalizations came on Nov. 16, at 332.

Active COVID-19 cases on Friday were at 170 statewide and 43 in Burleigh-Morton counties -- the lowest totals since the early weeks of the pandemic more than a year ago.

But North Dakota health officials on Thursday reported that the new delta coronavirus variant has been documented in the state. They said the variant is more easily transmitted from person to person, and that previous infection with COVID-19 might not be enough protection.

“We are encouraging all North Dakotans who are eligible to receive the vaccine to choose to get vaccinated,” State Immunization Director Molly Howell said.

The Associated Press on Thursday reported that the delta variant is contributing to a surge of cases in Missouri, which leads the nation with most new COVID-19 cases per capita and has a vaccination rate among the lowest in the country. Health officials in that state said the variant first gained a foothold in rural areas where vaccination rates are low.

In North Dakota, about 620,600 total doses of the three available COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, with about 91,300 doses in Burleigh-Morton, according to the state's vaccine dashboard. It shows 47.8% of eligible North Dakota adults are considered fully vaccinated; 14.3% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated.

The adult percentage began to plateau in May. It has increased only about 7% in the past two months and less than 3% in the past month.

Kirby Kruger, head of the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section, has estimated the necessary threshold for herd immunity could be as high as 70% of residents.

North Dakota once was among the top states in the rate of total coronavirus vaccine doses administered. But its current rate of 83,617 people per 100,000 population is higher than only 14 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracking site. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that the state has had some of the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the nation.

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.

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