BISMARCK — Cass County now has more cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, than any other county in North Dakota.

The North Dakota Department of Health announced 17 new cases of illness Tuesday, March 31, including eight in Cass County. A ninth Cass County case was confirmed earlier Tuesday, but the department later determined the patient lived out of state. Cass, the most populous county in the state, which contains most of the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area, now has 31 known cases. Burleigh County, which encompasses most of the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area, previously had the state's most cases.

Gov. Doug Burgum also announced Tuesday that the state's 175 public and private school districts will be beginning the implementation of "distance learning" plans Wednesday, April 1. Burgum ordered school buildings closed for more than two weeks ago, and Wednesday will mark the first day back to classwork for most students in the state.

Each district submitted a plan to the Department of Public Instruction last week to teach classes remotely via digital programs, phone calls, prerecorded videos or other alternative means. Burgum said plans for 155 districts have been approved by DPI and his office, and the remaining 20 will likely be approved Tuesday night.

The total positive tests for the virus in North Dakota is up to 126, however the department lists 30 people as having recovered from the illness. There are currently 21 residents hospitalized with the illness and three North Dakotans have died.

The department determined three of the new cases in Cass County were caused by close contact with a known case, while one was ruled to be caused by community spread, meaning it was not contracted through travel or exposure to a known case and implies that someone else in a community has the illness but has not yet been tested. The source of the other four cases are still under investigation. All of the new cases except for one come in person under 60 years of age.

The first two cases from Williams County, which encompasses most of the Williston area, were also announced by the department Tuesday morning. Other cases came from Mountrail, McKenzie and Grant counties — both ruled as community spread. A third case in Grand Forks County was announced Tuesday as a male between 10-19 who contracted the virus via community spread.

A total of 4,257 tests for the virus have been reported to the state, and 22 counties have at least one known case of the illness. However, Burgum has previously said that the cases are reported based on patients' mailing addresses, rather than their actual location in the state, so it is unknown where infected patients are quarantining or seeking medical help.

Job Service North Dakota has received more than 24,600 claims for unemployment benefits over the last 13 days, which is more than in all of 2019, Burgum said.

The governor also announced the establishment of the Workforce Coordination Center, which aims to pair workers who are qualified but not currently practicing with employers or the state in the health care, public safety, child care, agriculture, media and energy sectors. Burgum said some were paid jobs and others were volunteer positions, and he urged North Dakotans to "help out" in the fight against COVID-19.

Burgum also made mention Tuesday of North Dakota distilleries producing hand sanitizer, but he offered few details of how it would work. Since the state does not have bottling plant, he asked residents to save their empty bottles of hand sanitizer in case they could be refilled at a later date.

Every state now has at least 95 confirmed cases of the illness — New York state has been hit the hardest, with more than 67,000 known cases and 1,200 deaths. Minnesota has 629 known cases and 12 deaths, and South Dakota had announced 108 positive tests and one death as of Tuesday morning. The Dakotas have among the lowest numbers of positive tests in the country.

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