BISMARCK — The pandemic death toll in North Dakota continued to climb as the state's active COVID-19 cases reached another pandemic high on Friday, Oct. 9.

The North Dakota Department of Health reported a record 3,964 active cases of the virus in the state on Friday, including 651 new cases following a large testing day.

And coronavirus deaths have continued to mount at a rapid pace, with the state reporting 11 new deaths on Friday to bring October's total up to 56, more than any other month of the pandemic aside from September, when 116 people died. More than half of the state's 321 reported pandemic deaths have happened since the start of September.

The week also included two of the most high-profile deaths of the pandemic. On Monday, David Andahl, a 55-year-old candidate for the state Legislature, died after a short battle with coronavirus, and on Thursday Elvia Ramirez, a 17-year-old girl from the Fort Berthold Reservation died at a Fargo hospital, the youngest person to die from the virus in North Dakota.

Burgum said Thursday he hopes this "painful week" marks the darkest days of the pandemic.

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The state is also suffering a shortage of hospital beds as COVID-19 hospitalizations converge with strains on health care staffing and high non-coronavirus admission. The number of available hospital beds tightened significantly on Friday, leaving just 16 intensive care beds and 186 regular, inpatient beds open in the entire state, according to the latest figures from the department.

The 11 new deaths reported on Friday come from 10 different counties. And while all of the people who died in Friday's reported had underlying conditions, according to the Department of Health, several of them were also well-below the typical age range for coronavirus deaths in North Dakota. A woman in her 60s in Ramsey County, and man in his 60s in Richland County, a man in his 50s in Ward County, a man in his 50s in Burleigh County and a woman in her 30s in Mountrail County were all reported dead from the virus on Friday.

At least 190 of the state's deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, many of which have been decimated by the virus in the last two months. Five facilities, including three in rural areas, have more than a dozen infected residents.

North Dakota is second in the nation in new COVID-19 cases per capita over the last week after only South Dakota, according to The New York Times. The whole region is experiencing a surge in cases, with South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana and Minnesota all identified by the publication as states where infections are "high and staying high."

The number of hospitalized residents with the illness rose on Thursday to 132 — a new pandemic high. Thirty of those people are in intensive care.

More than 41 counties reported at least one case Friday, including many small, rural counties.

Cass County, which includes Fargo, reported more than 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and recently surpassed Burleigh County as the state's largest hot spot. The county reported 716 active cases on Friday.

Burleigh, which encompasses Bismarck, reported 127 new cases Friday. The county has the second most active cases in the state with 686, while the neighboring Morton County, which includes Mandan, reported 48 new cases on Friday and has a total of 248 active cases.

Fifty-three new cases came from Stark County, which includes Dickinson. Stark has the third-largest active case count of any county in the state, at 299 active cases.

About 7.4% of the 8,800 residents tested as part of the latest batch received a positive result, but 13.5% of residents tested for the first time got a positive result.

North Dakota does not report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 7.6% for all residents tested and 14.1% for tests taken on previously untested residents.

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Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at