Counties in the high, orange risk level are asked to lower their capacity to 25%, capping it at 50 people.
But while the state’s high risk level previously mandated the closures of certain business, according to the state’s original pandemic response plan, Burgum adjusted those requirements when 16 counties were raised to the high level two weeks ago. Counties elevated to the orange risk level on Thursday are encouraged but not required to follow the reduced capacity and masking guidelines, according to the state’s adjusted policies.
The elevated risk levels come as North Dakota reported a daily record for new COVID-19 positives on Thursday, Oct. 29, bringing the state to another pandemic high for active cases. And with 11 deaths reported Thursday, the state reached the doorstep of 500 virus deaths.
The state Department of Health disclosed 184 people hospitalized with the virus in its latest report as North Dakota’s already stretched health care system continued to take on new strain.
North Dakota remains the national leader in multiple outbreak rankings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reporting the most COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in the country over the last week. The Upper Midwest has experienced a region-wide surge of the virus, with South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Montana all experiencing rapidly climbing case numbers in the last month.
With 1,222 new positive cases reported on Thursday, the state hit a new active case record of 6,771.
But the active case totals coming out the Department of Health’s daily reports are tentative. In the past, the state has reported large backlogs of recoveries, retroactively disclosing nearly 500 unreported recoveries from over the weekend earlier this week. The department is reporting some recoveries on a lag, according to its health analytics team, meaning that the daily active case totals may be updated at later dates.
In recent weeks a severe outbreak has emerged in Ward County, which encompasses Minot, where new cases and deaths have taken alarming jumps in the last week. The county reported nine deaths on Tuesday, five deaths on Wednesday and another three deaths on Thursday. One-hundred sixty-five new COVID positives were disclosed in Ward in the state’s latest report, bringing the county’s active total to 835 and making it the third largest hot spot in the state, behind the more densely populated Burleigh and Cass counties.
In addition to the deaths in Ward County, the state reported single deaths in Cass, Dickey, Emmons, Logan, Stutsman, McLean, Oliver and Ransom counties on Thursday, bringing the state’s reported death total up to 499.
The admission of six new COVID patients to North Dakota hospitals brought statewide hospitalizations to a record 184 on Thursday. Another 103 patients were initially hospitalized with some other ailment but later tested positive for COVID-19. Forty-one residents with the virus are in intensive care.
The state is battling through a shortage of available hospital beds as COVID hospitalizations converge with strains on health care staffing and high noncoronavirus admissions. There are 23 available intensive care beds and 240 regular, inpatient beds in the whole state, according to the state’s latest figures.
The situation is especially urgent in Bismarck and Minot. Bismarck’s two hospitals have two available ICU beds and 10 inpatient beds between them, while Minot has two ICU beds and just eight inpatient beds. The availability of staffed beds in Fargo’s three hospitals has also tightened considerably since earlier this week, leaving four ICU beds and 17 inpatient beds available in the city.
There are seven ICU beds and 42 inpatient beds left in Grand Forks, and four ICU beds and seven inpatient beds in Dickinson, according the most recent disclosures.
Cass County, which encompasses Fargo, and Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck, have vied for the largest hot spot in the state over the last week. Cass reported 278 new cases on Thursday and currently has the largest outbreak in the state, at 1,220 active cases. Burleigh reported 169 new cases on Thursday and has an active case total of 1,128.
Grand Forks County has the fourth largest outbreak in the state, behind Ward. The county reported 97 new cases on Thursday, bringing its active case total of 704.
All but four of North Dakota’s 53 counties reported at least one new positive on Thursday, and every county except for one is reporting at least one active positive.
About 15.6% of the 8,402 residents tested as part of the latest batch received a positive result, but 24.8% of residents tested for the first time got a positive result.
North Dakota does not report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 11.8% for all residents tested and 20.8% for tests taken on previously untested residents.
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Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.