BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has revealed for the first time the number of people living in long-term care facilities in the state who have died thus far from COVID-19.

The information came during an hour-long telephone town hall meeting on Wednesday, May 6, put on by AARP North Dakota, the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons.

Following a question from a member about nursing home deaths, moderator and AARP State Director Josh Askvig asked the governor whether that number would be published by the state health department.

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Burgum said 21 people in long-term care and one person in assisted living had died with COVID-19, making up about two-thirds of all such deaths in the state.

On Wednesday, the death toll from the novel coronavirus in North Dakota was at 31. On Friday, May 8, it rose to 33.

Burgum said all of those who died had underlying health conditions, and some were already in hospice care before contracting the illness — thus, they died with COVID-19, not because of it.

“That fact does not change at all our energy to try to squash the virus in North Dakota and keep it out of all of our long term care facilities,” the governor said.

That wording is reflected on the state health department website, which now lists a breakdown of deaths into three categories: those due to COVID-19, those where it was not the primary cause and those that are pending because an official death record has not been filed.

Per state law, that can take up to 14 days from the date of death, the website said.

The Minnesota Department of Health lists the number of COVID-19 deaths associated with long-term care or assisted living facilities on its website.

Of the total 534 reported deaths statewide as of Friday, 434 occurred in people living in those settings.

In North Dakota, 42 of the state’s 218 long-term care facilities confirmed the presence of the novel coronavirus in a staff member or resident as of Friday.

“We’re doing way better in terms of keeping it out. We want to keep it that way,” Burgum said.

The governor said his goal is to have everyone who lives or works in a long-term care facility in the state be tested for COVID-19 by Saturday, May 9.

Coronavirus cases continue to find their way into facilities in cities that didn’t have them previously and into rural areas of the state.

They include nursing homes in Williston, Devils Lake, Rolla, Rugby and Tioga.

The Villa Maria rehabilitation center is seen Thursday, April 9, at 3102 S. University Dr., Fargo. 
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
The Villa Maria rehabilitation center is seen Thursday, April 9, at 3102 S. University Dr., Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Cases are still rising in Fargo nursing homes, with Villa Maria recording four more cases over the last day for a total of 40, the highest number in the state, and Rosewood on Broadway adding two cases for a total of 31.

There are victories, as well.

At Eventide Fargo, staff celebrated the recovery this week of three residents from COVID-19, who’ve received two negative test results after battling the illness.

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