North Dakota hits grim COVID-19 milestone; task force forms

July 28, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday announced a task force to investigate the spread of the coronavirus in the Bismarck metropolitan area, the state’s current COVID-19 hotspot.

Burgum’s announcement of the Burleigh-Morton task force came during his weekly briefing at the state Capitol came and as North Dakota marked its 100th COVID-19 death and the number of active cases reached a new high.

The Republican governor said the task force will be similar to one he announced in May in Cass County and Fargo metropolitan area, where local leaders and others successfully concentrated on beefing up testing efforts, particularly in long-term care facilities.

The latest confirmed death was a McKenzie County woman in her 20s with no underlying health conditions, the North Dakota Department of Health said. The woman was the youngest victim since the state’s first death attributed to the coronavirus was recorded in March, data show.

Burgum said it was only the third death reported in North Dakota that occurred without underlying health conditions.

Health officials on Tuesday reported 157 new coronavirus infections. That raises the statewide total since the pandemic reached North Dakota in mid-March to 6,141.

North Dakota’s active cases on Tuesday rose to 1,084, which is 26 more than Monday’s record and nearly quadruple since July 1 — a spike that coincides with the reopening of North Dakota’s economy and increased testing.

Officials said 51 of the new cases were in Burleigh County and 11 were in Morton County. The counties account 25% of the state’s active cases, which Burgum called “particularly concerning.”

Burleigh and Morton counties continue to post the highest percentage of positive tests in the state at an average positive rate of 4.1 percent for the last 14 days, significantly higher than the statewide rate of 2.77% and Cass County’s 2.73 %, Burgum said.

Cass County includes more than 160,000 people in Fargo and West Fargo. Burleigh and Morton counties total about 127,000 people.

The spike in active COVID-19 cases prompted health officials in Washington, D.C., on Monday to place North Dakota on a list of high-risk coronavirus states. On Tuesday, Chicago added North Dakota to the list of states where people who are traveling to the city must quarantine for two weeks. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and Washington, D.C. also issued travel restrictions for North Dakota travelers this month.

The number of North Dakota patients currently hospitalized in North Dakota was 35 on Tuesday, down eight from Monday. There were 128 new recoveries reported, bringing the total number to 4,957 since the pandemic began.

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The Health Department said more than 150,000 people in North Dakota have been tested at least once, and the total tests number more than 297,500, including 4,310 in the past day.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.