BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Monday, May 18, announced 31 new cases of COVID-19, most of which come from the Fargo area. It's the lowest daily positive count in more than a week.

The department also confirmed the death of a Ramsey County woman in her 90s from the illness. The woman represents the first death from the illness in Ramsey County, which is in the northeast part of the state and includes Devils Lake.

Like every other victim of the illness in North Dakota, the woman had underlying health conditions, according to the department. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults and people with HIV, diabetes, asthma, liver disease or other conditions that compromise one's immune system are at a greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

Forty-four North Dakotans, including 33 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 89,000 lives nationwide. At least 29 of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to the department.

The total number of positive tests for the virus in the state is at 1,931, but 1,219 people have recovered from the illness, including 41 announced Monday. There are 32 residents hospitalized with the illness, up two from Sunday.

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Twenty-six of the new cases Monday came from Cass County, which encompasses Fargo and West Fargo. The county now has 1,173 known cases, but the department reports that 662 residents have recovered after previously testing positive.

Cass County accounts for more than 70% of the active COVID-19 cases, but only 22% of the people tested in North Dakota reside in the county. Gov. Doug Burgum said last week the state would aim to close the testing disparity in the county by week's end, but the gap continues to grow.

The other five new cases Monday came from Burleigh, Ransom and Sioux counties.

The state announced nearly 2,100 test results Monday, however about 700 of the people in the latest batch had previously been tested for the virus. Burgum has stated that he would like to see regular testing of vulnerable residents, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

A total of 67,977 tests have been performed, but some residents have been tested more than once.

Burgum said the state and its health care providers aim to perform 4,000 tests per day by the end of the month. He has maintained throughout the pandemic that widespread available testing is the key to restoring normalcy to work and home life.

Nursing home cases growing at slower rate

The number of cases in residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities increased by three on Sunday to 370.

Nursing homes are particularly susceptible to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 because many residents are 65 or older and have underlying conditions. The state has heavily prioritized testing in nursing homes in the last three weeks.

Nearly three-quarters of the cases tied to nursing homes have come in Fargo. Villa Maria rehabilitation center in Fargo has the most cases of any facility in the state at 52. There are also 48 cases tied to Rosewood on Broadway, 41 tied to Bethany on University and 33 tied to Eventide's Fargo facilities.

Four nursing homes in Grand Forks have reported 20 total cases of the illness, including Valley Senior Living on Columbia with 11 cases.

The health department does not discern between employees and residents in its reporting of nursing home cases. It also does not clarify how many active cases, recoveries and deaths are tied to each facility.

An executive order restricting visitation at nursing homes remains in place as most other restrictions on movement and business closures have been lifted.

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