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With vaccinations on horizon, Event Center virus testing to stop amid low demand

With vaccinations on horizon, Event Center virus testing to stop amid low demand

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Public health officials have decided to stop holding coronavirus testing events at the Bismarck Event Center as demand falls and they shift gears to vaccinations.

"As COVID-19 positive cases have declined across the state, demand for testing has also decreased," Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch said in a statement.

There were 1,749 active coronavirus cases statewide Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health. That's a drop of 14 from the previous day, and significantly lower than in mid-November when active cases topped 11,000.

Moch said public health workers were administering about 1,000 tests at each drive-thru event at the Bismarck Event Center during peak demand several months ago, but the figure has dropped to around 200 at more recent events.

Rapid testing is becoming more common as the state has encouraged people without COVID-19 symptoms to use up its stash of BinaxNOW tests that return results in 15 minutes. Those tests are available at a number of locations statewide. Moch attributed some of the drop in interest in testing at the Bismarck Event Center to the new rapid tests. At the event center, public health workers administered PCR tests that must be processed in labs, and results often take several days.

People in the Bismarck-Mandan area in need of a PCR test will still be able to get one at various locations, including by appointment at Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health by calling 701-355-1540.

Tests are also available by appointment at Bismarck State College on Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Register at www.covidtestingbsc.as.me/schedule.php. Mayo Pharmacy is providing tests by appointment for a fee. Register at www.mayopharmacynd.com.

Rapid tests for people with no symptoms are available at Gateway Mall on weekdays from 3-7 p.m.

Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health plans to use the Bismarck Event Center for mass-vaccination events in the future and might still use it for testing if the need arises.

Meanwhile, other providers are starting to announce vaccination plans for the public.

North Dakota health officials update COVID-19 vaccine priority groups

Sanford Health Bismarck, for one, will begin vaccinating people in priority phase 1B Thursday. The hospital will vaccinate patients 75 and older with underlying health conditions at an event Thursday morning. The event is for patients who have previously set up appointments to be vaccinated.

People in phase 1A, which includes health care workers and long-term care residents and staff, were the first to be vaccinated.

Virus numbers

Two more North Dakotans have died with COVID-19, and another 227 tested positive for the coronavirus, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.

The two deaths were women in their 50s and 60s from Rolette and Stutsman counties, bringing the state's virus death toll to 1,357.

Burleigh County had 26 new cases and Morton County had 15 new cases. The cases stem from 7,880 tests processed Tuesday for a daily positivity rate of 3.33% as calculated by the state.

More than 95,000 North Dakotans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations rose by two Wednesday to 72.

The Health Department reported Tuesday evening that the state lab detected a software malfunction on a piece of laboratory equipment, affecting the results of 181 positive tests between Dec. 25, 2020, and Jan 8.

The department has fixed the problem, but the results of those tests are inconclusive. The people affected have been notified of the error, the department said.

Lab staff have since ramped up maintenance and software verification, according to the department.

"While these lab issues are rare, we are committed to transparency to the public and the individuals we serve," said Dr. Christie Massen, chief laboratory officer. "We take these malfunctions seriously and work to identify and quickly resolve the issues."

More information

North Dakota's statewide mask mandate is in effect until Monday, and business capacity restrictions are in place until Jan. 29. Violations could be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Repeat violations could lead to a fine up to $1,500 and 30 days in jail. For more information, go to www.bit.ly/38NiT4r and https://bit.ly/2Xq34tk.

All North Dakota counties are in the yellow "moderate" risk level on the state's five-level color-coded system. The risk level determines coronavirus-related protocols in place under the ND Smart Restart Plan for everything from businesses to family gatherings. Those protocols are not enforced. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/38npUYV.

The state's COVID-19 Smart Restart County Analysis data dashboard can be accessed at www.health.nd.gov/healthmetrics. A list of vaccine priority groups can be found at https://www.health.nd.gov/covid-19-vaccine-priority-groups. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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