As Cass County cases spike, F-M metro faces COVID-19 wave similar to May peak
FARGO — Cass County's spiking coronavirus infections are approaching the levels set during a wave early in the pandemic and local officials prompted residents to set aside "COVID fatigue" to take steps to stop the spread.
The pleas for diligence in mask-wearing, maintaining safe distances, frequent hand-washing and avoiding large gatherings came in a briefing by local officials on Wednesday, Sept. 30, the first since July.
A week earlier, North Dakota health officials raised Cass County's coronavirus risk level from green to yellow, or moderate risk, which officials said underscored the need for the public to redouble their efforts to slow the spread.
"We're back to the numbers we had in May," said Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney. "We don't want to go backwards."
Mahoney and others at the briefing stressed the importance of wearing masks and other steps and appealed for people to overcome their compliance "fatigue" as the pandemic is about to grind into its eighth month.
"We'd like to drive down the numbers of this illness down over the next two weeks," said Mahoney, a physician and co-director of the Red River Valley COVID-19 Task Force.
Faithful adherence to precautions including wearing masks and maintaining safe distances are crucial to achieving conditions that will enable a return to a "new normal," including a return to live events, Mahoney said.
As of Wednesday, Cass County had 552 active cases and has recorded 5,334 total cases and 77 deaths. Clay County has active cases ranging from 170 to 200 active cases and has logged 1,457 cases and 41 deaths.
Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease physician and professor of public health practice at North Dakota State University, said the rebound in coronavirus cases means that once again the infection is starting to "bubble back to long-term care," endangering elderly residents, the most vulnerable population.
North Dakota has just 22 intensive care beds available as hospital admissions surge
South Dakota hospitals dispute claims they're full, but transparency remains an issue
With the virus so prevalent in the population, it's difficult to completely control the spread to protect nursing home residents, even with robust testing and contract tracing, he said.
The percentage of those who test positive for the virus, which once fell to a low of 1% in July and remained relatively flat through July and August now has climbed to 6% to 6.5%, similar to the state rate.
"We're now pretty well matched with where the state is at," Carson said.
More and more scientific studies have documented the benefits of wearing masks to prevent spreading the virus, he said. He cited two examples where masks were shown to prevent spread in close quarters.
In one case, a man who was sick with COVID-19, with a fever and coughs, didn't transmit the virus to passengers on a 15-hour flight from China to Toronto. In another, two hairstylists in Missouri who were sick didn't transmit the virus to more than 130 patrons, because the stylists and patrons all wore masks, Carson said.
Masks, he said, are "one of the most important tools we have in battling this pandemic" and gave a presentation showing how masks, especially two-layer cloth masks and medical masks, stop most or all aerosol droplets from passing.
With influenza season fast approaching, officials and health providers also stressed the importance of getting flu shots. A person can have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and both diseases have similar symptoms.
Carson conceded that mask-wearing and social distancing to slow the spread is "kicking the can down the road." But that's important, he added. "We want to kick the can down the road because just down the road are treatments and vaccines."
Also, the chief medical officers of Sanford Health and Essentia Health said slowing the spread helps to take the pressure off of health systems, which have seen hospital admissions surge in recent weeks, the result of COVID-19 cases and conditions that have worsened because of delayed care.