BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health confirmed two new positive tests for coronavirus in Cass County on Tuesday, March 24. The state now has 36 known cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference Tuesday that two Cass County men, one in his 70s and another in his 90s, have contracted the illness. The department is still investigating how they got the virus.

Earlier Tuesday, the department announced a Dunn County man in his 20s and a Burleigh County woman in her 60s tested positive for the virus. It's the first case in rural Dunn County, which lies just north of Dickinson in the western part of the state.

Seven patients have now been hospitalized with the illness, and the department is currently monitoring 131 people, most of whom were found to have had close contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The state lab has processed tests from 49 of 53 counties, and Burgum has previously noted that rural communities are not immune to the disease. There are now a combined four cases in Pierce, Dunn and Walsh counties, which have no cities of more than 5,000 people.

The governor said North Dakota cannot become complacent with news of recent low number of positive tests because the state is waging "a logistical battle" to ensure medical facilities, equipment and staff are ready for a potential jump in cases.

"Each day we have low count here, it gives North Dakotans another chance to prepare," Burgum said Monday. "We might be weeks away from when we would have crunch on our medical capacity, but each day that we get a chance to do more planning and more work is a life-saving day."

A total of 1,602 people have been tested for the virus in North Dakota, and eight counties have at least one known case of the illness, with the bulk of the cases coming from Burleigh and Morton counties, which includes the Bismarck-Mandan area.

Grand Forks County has no known cases, but it's not for lack of testing. State and private labs have evaluated 160 tests from the Grand Forks, the third most of any county in the state. More tests have been evaluated from Ward and Burleigh counties than anywhere else, however Cass County will likely see an uptick when 270 pending tests come back from a private lab in California.

Burgum announced Tuesday the Bank of North Dakota will try to relieve pressure on the nearly 47,000 people with outstanding student loans through the bank. Borrowers can now apply online to defer loan payments for six months. The bank also plans to lower interest rates on loans by about 1% once it can work through some technical issues. Burgum said the bank's decision would cost it roughly $5 million.

A record-high number of people have applied for unemployment benefits from the state in the last week, Burgum said. Since Wednesday, Job Service North Dakota received nearly 10,000 claims for unemployment, compared to about 400 the previous week.

The governor said most of the claims over the weekend came from workers in the state's oil and gas industry, which has been rocked by exceedingly lower crude oil prices. Burgum said he expected more claims from the retail and hospitality industries to come in over the next few days.

Burgum also announced the state would be lifting its "frost laws," which regulate how much trucks can weigh while driving on North Dakota highways during winter and spring. The move was made as a consideration for trucking companies that have seen lower staffing levels and haven't been able to move goods as easily during the outbreak. Burgum said the state Department of Transportation will have to monitor the highways to make sure trucks aren't doing too much damage to the roads.

Every state now has at least 15 confirmed cases of the illness — New York State has been hit the hardest, with more than 20,000 known cases and more than 100 deaths. Minnesota has 262 known cases and one death, and South Dakota had announced 30 positive tests and one death as of Tuesday evening.

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