BISMARCK — North Dakota is rounding off the most intense week of the latest COVID-19 outbreak with another major increase in active infections.
Hospitals officials warn that the worsening outbreak, driven by the highly infectious delta variant, could overwhelm the state's health care system if more residents don't buy into vaccination, mask-wearing and social distancing.
Statewide case rates
NEW CASES REPORTED FRIDAY, SEPT. 3: 445
ACTIVE CASES*: 2,908
DAILY POSITIVITY RATE: 5.3%
TOTAL KNOWN CASES THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 118,931
TOTAL RECOVERED THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 114,459
*The Department of Health often amends the number of active cases after they are first reported.
North Dakota's active cases rose 207 over the previous day as infections climb at a steep rate. Since last Friday, the state's active infections have rocketed up 865, a 42% increase, and more than 2,600 people have tested positive.
Cass County, which encompasses Fargo, has the most known active cases in the state with 563. Burleigh County has 513 known cases as of Friday, and Stark County, which encompasses Dickinson, has 240. McKenzie and Stark counties, both with low vaccination rates, lead the state in cases per capita.
The state's 14-day rolling average positivity rate was 6.5%.
Cases are also rising in nursing homes, though a 93% vaccination rate among residents has held infections in check even as the state's virus numbers grow exponentially. The state reported 12 resident cases and 73 staff cases on Friday.
North Dakota Long Term Care Association President Shelly Peterson said at a Friday news conference her organization opposes a proposal from U.S. President Joe Biden to mandate vaccination for staff at nursing facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Peterson said the mandate, which could go into effect this month, would "decimate" staffing levels at North Dakota's nursing homes, where about a third of workers are not fully vaccinated. She noted that 89% of facilities have reported unfilled shifts.
In a worst-case scenario, Peterson said about 4,000 unvaccinated nursing home staff could quit because of a vaccine mandate, though she acknowledged it's likely many workers would choose immunization over termination.
Long-term care resident Chris Larson, who chairs the state's Reuniting Residents and Families Task Force, agreed that the vaccine mandate should not be implemented because losing staff would hurt residents' quality of life.
Peterson said she fully supports staff getting jab on their own accord, noting that unvaccinated staff pose a risk to residents, who have made up nearly 60% of the state's COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Larson said his doctor told him he may have died from a recent COVID-19 infection had he not been vaccinated.
ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 105
TOTAL DEATHS: 1,564
Hospitalizations fell over the previous day, but health care providers have struggled lately to keep up rising admissions amid staffing shortages. Unlike last fall's COVID-19 peak, hospitals are dealing with many noncoronavirus patients on top of high-maintenance COVID-19 patients.
North Dakota had just 11 staffed intensive care beds available throughout the state as of Thursday, along with 204 staffed inpatient beds. Bismarck's two hospitals had no available ICU beds and five inpatient beds, while Fargo's three hospitals had a combine five ICU beds and eight inpatient beds. The bed capacity figures only reveal capacity at a single point in time, and hospitals may actually have more or fewer beds open than when they reported to the Department of Health, said Emergency Preparedness Chief Tim Wiedrich.
The state reported two death Friday, including one in Ramsey County, which includes Devils Lake, and one in Sioux County, which includes the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The department no longer provides information about the gender or age of deceased residents.
The department began releasing data last week about "breakthrough" cases in fully vaccinated residents. During the week of Aug. 29, the state reported just three of 39 hospitalizations came in fully vaccinated residents.
FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED*: 350,313 (52.9% of population ages 12 and up)
FULL VACCINE COVERAGE*: 3212,576 (48.7% of population ages 12 and up)
*These figures come from the state's vaccine dashboard, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes vaccinations performed at federal sites, reports slightly higher vaccination rates.
North Dakota ranks in the bottom ten states in vaccination rate, but fear of the delta variant has spurred a slight increase in vaccination rate over the last few weeks, state immunization coordinator Molly Howell said.
Even though a person can be infected with COVID-19 after they are fully vaccinated, health officials emphasize that those who are immunized often experience less severe symptoms and are less likely to be hospitalized.
More information about vaccines can be found at www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator.
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