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Burgum: North Dakotans should know virus threat is real

September 1, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this April 3, 2020 file photo, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, where e he announced a pilot project to identify positive cases of COVID-19 earlier to slow the spread of Coronavirus in North Dakota. Burgum is pleading for citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as North Dakota's hospitals struggle to handle the influx of patients infected with the highly contagious delta variant. Burgum brought together health professionals from around the state Wednesday in his first COVID-19 briefing in more than five months. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, file)
FILE - In this April 3, 2020 file photo, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, where e he announced a pilot project to identify positive cases of COVID-19 earlier to slow the spread of Coronavirus in North Dakota. Burgum is pleading for citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as North Dakota's hospitals struggle to handle the influx of patients infected with the highly contagious delta variant. Burgum brought together health professionals from around the state Wednesday in his first COVID-19 briefing in more than five months. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, file)
FILE - In this April 3, 2020 file photo, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, where e he announced a pilot project to identify positive cases of COVID-19 earlier to slow the spread of Coronavirus in North Dakota. Burgum is pleading for citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as North Dakota's hospitals struggle to handle the influx of patients infected with the highly contagious delta variant. Burgum brought together health professionals from around the state Wednesday in his first COVID-19 briefing in more than five months. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, file)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Doug Burgum pleaded Wednesday for North Dakotans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying in his first coronavirus briefing in more than five months that hospitals are becoming overwhelmed.

North Dakota ranks 42nd in the country in vaccination rates and is trending worse than during the peak of the winter outbreak. The surge is being driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which was first confirmed in the state in late June.

“Part of the reason we’re having this press conference today is that we do have a hospital capacity issue that is present and looming,” Burgum said. “We want to make sure that North Dakotans know that the risk is real.”

State health officials say the cases are matching low vaccination numbers, with one in every 180 vaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19 and one in 16 unvaccinated people testing positive. One in about 2,700 fully vaccinated citizens have been hospitalized and one in about 16,000 fully vaccinated residents have died. Active cases stand at 2,443, up 188 from Tuesday, and 135 people are hospitalized with the virus.

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“We are actually on a trend line that looks less attractive and less promising than we were a year ago,” Burgum said.

Patients in hospitals are younger and healthier, in several cases with no underlying conditions. Doctors are worried about the state’s capacity for pediatric intensive care. Sanford Health has restored its ethics committee in preparation for decisions on who gets the next bed or ventilator and how many patients the system can handle with limited staff.

Some hospitals started to cut back on elective surgeries or are asking patients to talk with their doctors about timing of the procedures.

Burgum emphasized personal responsibility and said it’s “not about what government says, it’s what people do.” The governor added that delta is more serious than other variants and encouraged vaccine-hesitant residents to talk to their health professionals.

“Yes, we are still taking about COVID,” Burgum said. “Delta is different.”

Contrary to popular belief, according to Dr. Jeffrey Sather, chief of medical staff at Trinity Health in Minot, it’s not a case of deja vu from the last outbreak.

“In some ways, you want to say here we go again, but it’s not,” Sather said, noting that hospitals throughout the state have been stressed for the last 18 months. He said Trinity has been getting calls from patients in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota.

“Capacity isn’t a day-by-day issue, it’s really hour by hour,” Sather said