BISMARCK — A third North Dakota resident has succumbed to COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

The North Dakota Department of Health announced Monday, March 30, that a Morton County man in his 70s with underlying health issues has died from the illness. Earlier in the day, the department announced a McHenry County woman in her 80s with underlying health issues died from the illness. Both residents caught the virus via community spread, meaning it was not contracted through travel or exposure to a known case and implies that someone else in a community has the illness but has not yet been tested.

McHenry County is located in the north-central part of the state east of Minot and has a population of about 5,900. Morton County is situated in south-central part of the state and has a population of about 31,000, most of whom live in or around Mandan.

The two deaths come after a Cass County man in his 90s became the first North Dakotan to die from the illness on Friday. Roger Lehne, 93, refused a ventilator possibly to save it for another patient, his niece told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

The department confirmed 11 new positive tests for coronavirus Monday, bringing the state's total to 109 cases. However, the department lists 20 people as having recovered from the illness. Nineteen patients are now hospitalized with the illness.

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The new cases include Grand Forks County's first two known cases: a man and a woman, both in their 30s. The department also announced three new cases in Cass County, which now has 23 total. Other new cases came from Stark, Burleigh, Mountrail and Ward counties. A fourth Cass County case originally announced Monday morning was later removed from the state's count after it was determined the patient lived in Minnesota.

A total of 3,909 tests for the virus have been reported to the state, and 19 counties have at least one known case of the illness. Burleigh County, which encompasses the majority of the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area, still has the most cases at 29, but Cass County has seen a steady climb in positive tests over the last week. However, Gov. Doug Burgum has previously said that the cases are reported based on patients' mailing addresses, rather than their actual location in the state, so it is unknown where infected patients are quarantining or seeking medical help.

U.S. Sens John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both R-N.D., spoke at a press conference Monday about a new $2 trillion stimulus package designed to aid American businesses and workers struggling with the economic consequences of shutting down much of the country's business activity. President Donald Trump signed the legislation last week after contentious debates over what to include in the emergency measure delayed its passage for several days.

Hoeven spelled out the logistics of how North Dakotans will receive checks from the federal government through the package. Most individual tax filers will receive $1,200 through direct deposits, couples will receive $2,400 and all filers will receive $500 per dependent. Hoeven also detailed the small business loans that come as part of the legislation, which allow businesses to borrow enough to cover payroll costs for up to two and a half months. If the loans are used to cover payroll expenses and the employer continues to employ its workers, the loans can be forgiven, effectively becoming grants.

Burgum announced Monday that Job Service North Dakota has received about 21,000 claims for unemployment benefits over the last 12 days, which is more than in all of 2019.

Cramer spoke about the need to press "Saudi Arabia, our so-called friends" on the country's recent actions to lower global oil prices. Saudi Arabia has lowered its own oil prices and flooded the market with more oil during a "price war" wit Russia. The conflict has caught American oil producers, including those in North Dakota, directly in the crosshairs, causing many to lay off workers as the economic downturn has intensified.

The federal government should put some force behind its diplomacy by threatening to remove American soldiers from Saudi outposts if the Middle Eastern country doesn't cooperate in the effort to raise global prices, Cramer said.

Neither senator said self-isolation had been recommended to them by the Senate doctor after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tested positive for COVID-19 last week. U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., announced he is self-isolating after leaving the nation's capital a few days ago.

Burgum announced a new amendment to a prior order Monday that allows some K-5 schools to open for the sole purpose of providing care for children of workers in essential areas, including child care. Schools still remain closed for general academic purposes, but districts will begin rolling out distance education plans as soon as Wednesday, April 1.

Every state now has at least 85 confirmed cases of the illness — New York state has been hit the hardest, with nearly 60,000 known cases and more than 950 deaths. Minnesota has 576 known cases and 10 deaths, and South Dakota had announced 101 positive tests and one death as of Monday afternoon. The Dakotas have among the lowest numbers of positive tests in the country.

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