Deaths, cases, hospitalizations set records in North Dakota

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum renewed a call Thursday for individual responsibility, as the state reported a grim daily record of 29 more deaths from COVID-19, along with new highs for infections and hospitalizations.

“Today, statistically, marks the worst day yet for North Dakota,” a solemn Burgum said during his weekly coronavirus update at the state Capitol. “We don’t like where we are relative to where we’ve been.”

Burgum has avoided statewide mandates, instead stressing a personal responsibility message for such things as wearing masks and social distancing. He stressed that again Thursday.

“We’re calling on all of you to do your part to get these numbers down,” he said. “Individual responsibility does work.”

Burgum raised the coronavirus risk level in several North Dakota counties Thursday, and none remain in the lowest risk categories.

The governor moved eight counties from moderate risk to high under the state’s coronavirus management protocols for everything from businesses to family gatherings. Thirty-three of North Dakota’s 53 counties are now in the highest risk category. The guidance for high-risk counties includes limiting businesses occupancy to 25% with a cap of 50 people and encouraging businesses to require masks. The guidelines are only recommendations and not enforced.

Burgum raised the alert level to high Barnes, Grant, Kidder, Pembina, Rolette, Stutsman, Traill and Wells counties. He also raised the risk levels for 14 counties from low to moderate risk. They are Billings, Burke, Cavalier, Divide, Griggs, Logan, Oliver, Pierce, Ransom, Renville, Sargent, Sheridan, Slope and Steele counties.

Earlier Thursday, health officials reported a daily high of 29 deaths, pushing the state’s death toll from the virus to 596, with more than half occurring since Oct. 1. The death count is the 12th highest per capita in the country at about 75 deaths per 100,000 people, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Health officials said 231 people were being treated in medical facilities across the state, up 11 from the previous high set Wednesday. There were 14 staffed intensive care beds and 159 staffed inpatient beds available on Thursday.

“Today is one of the most stressed times the health care system has been in,” Chris Jones, executive director of the state Department of Human Services, said during the governor’s update.

Hospitals increasingly are faced with staffing shortages, which is a bigger concern than hospital beds, Jones said.

“It’s not about the beds, it’s about staffing,” he said.

Health officials reported 1,540 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, for a total of nearly 50,000 since the start of the pandemic. The positivity rate topped 17% on Thursday, the second-highest rate since the pandemic began.

There were 1,859 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita, Johns Hopkins University researchers said.