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North Dakota Guard helps notify 800 positive for COVID-19

BISMARCK (AP) — National Guard soldiers have helped to notify 800 people who tested positive for COVID-19 but initially weren’t told, officials said.

The notification backlog, which was due to a recent sharp increase in coronavirus cases, was resolved Thursday largely through shifting the role this week of 50 North Dakota National Guard soldiers, health officials said.

The soldiers had been informing people they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of the virus. On Tuesday, health officials announced the soldiers would instead be notifying those who test positive for the virus.

The North Dakota Department of Health expects the change in contact tracing to be temporary. As part of the new process, public health officials will no longer reach out to close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Instead, those testing positive will be instructed to self-notify their close contacts.

Contact tracing remains unchanged for health care settings, schools and universities.

Kirby Kruger, director of the state Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control, said last week that 400 health officials and contractors were able to contact more than 90 percent of those who test positive within 24 hours to begin contact tracing.

North Dakota reported 886 new infections on Friday, down from a record 1,038 new cases reported on Thursday.

The COVID Tracking Project reported that North Dakota has had more than 1,272 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which leads the nation. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by more than 70% in the lasts two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Health officials also reported nine new deaths Friday, increasing the statewide death toll from the virus to 440 since the pandemic began.

Hospitalizations stood at a record 168 on Friday, up a dozen from Thursday. There were 232 available staffed inpatient beds plus 14 intensive care unit beds in North Dakota on Friday, according to state data.