Stark County awoke Monday to its largest spike of COVID-19 cases to date with 21 new cases confirmed by the North Dakota Department of Health.

In just the last three weeks, 152 new positive cases were reported in the county as experts fear that it could be getting worse before it gets better considering many who live in the western part of the state appear to have less propensity for adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — especially the wearing of masks in public.

The rash of positive cases are being attributed to the increase in testing available in the area, but may also demonstrate the pervasiveness of the virus on the Western Edge. Stark County led the state in positive cases for the first time since the onset of the outbreak, surpassing the daily totals of Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks and Ward counties.

“We are starting to see the activities that people did in July, the big gatherings, we’re starting to see that spread from those big gatherings,” Sherry Adams, the executive director of the Southwest District Health Unit, said. “Whether it was a family reunion or rodeo, whatever the case may be, more and more people were gathering together and less and less people were socially distancing or wearing masks. So those factors alone really are increasing the spread across North Dakota.”

Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker spoke briefly with The Press concerning the rapid increase in cases.

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“The more testing that is done the more cases there are going to be and more people are going to be detected,” Decker said. “We’re not going to change how we’re doing business out here...unless mandated by the governor.”

According to Adams, the numbers of confirmed cases are not just within the city of Dickinson, but are spread throughout the county and still don’t necessarily reflect the entire picture of the spread.

“We’re actually testing the same number of people across North Dakota … but we are just finding more and more people getting sick,” Adams said. “The cases that came over the weekend didn’t come from a big testing week. I think a lot of those same people that were tested probably sought help because they really weren’t feeling well.”

Adams confirmed that testing will continue in Dickinson every Tuesday and Wednesday at the old Sanford Clinic from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

“The reason we’re doing that is we really want to make sure that individuals know if they’re positive as we get closer to school and athletics and those kinds of things,” Adams said. “We want to have more people get tested to make sure that they absolutely don’t have COVID and then we have a whole team go down, or a bigger group of people go down …. The more people that get tested, the better we’ll be to see where we’re at in North Dakota.”

While many people question if the positive cases are authentic and not a false reading, Adams added there have not been any false readings to date within western North Dakota.

“There’s always the potential for a false reading, but really we haven’t seen any of that in the Western Side with any of our samples per say,” Adams said.

The CDC continues to call on Americans to wear masks when outdoors, pointing to increasing evidence that face coverings are helping prevent people who have the virus from spreading it.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, CDC Director, said. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

For more information on how to implement best practices to avoid contracting the virus in public places, visit cdc.gov or health.nd.gov.