BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, Dec. 3, reported another 11 COVID-19 deaths and 978 positive cases.

North Dakota was the nation's COVID-19 hot spot for weeks, but other Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, have now surpassed North Dakota for the worst outbreaks in the country as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

North Dakota is now ranked seventh nationwide in per capita cases. However, it still has among the worst per capita death rates in the U.S., with only neighboring South Dakota beating out its northern neighbor for the nation's worst death rate.

Health officials are fearful of a post-Thanksgiving spike in cases and deaths and are urging Americans to reconsider their Christmas and New Year's plans to help curb the spread in what is sure to be a dark winter season for the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the U.S. marked one of its worst days of the pandemic so far by recording the deaths of 2,760 individuals nationwide in one day, according to The New York Times. The U.S. also had more than 100,000 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, which is almost twice as many people as there were when the virus hit its first wave peak in April.

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The 11 deaths the North Dakota Department of Health reported on Thursday included three Cass County residents, two Burleigh County residents and one each from Divide, Foster, Grand Forks, Ramsey, Stutsman and Ward counties.

North Dakota's pandemic death toll is now at 977 residents, and November was the state's deadliest month by far with 402 reported in the month alone. November's death count will likely increase as death investigations conclude.

At least 563 of the state's deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. There are almost 360 infected nursing home residents and 374 infected staff in the state.

For about two weeks, active COVID-19 cases have been decreasing in North Dakota. There are now 5,461 residents known to be infected with the virus.

On Wednesday, North Dakota announced its preliminary plans to disperse COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. The North Dakota Department of Health stated health care workers and nursing home residents would be prioritized in the first rounds of vaccine distribution.

Hospitalizations increased Thursday and there are now 306 residents hospitalized due to the illness.

The state's hospitals are under severe staffing crunches, and available hospital beds are scarce. About 13% of staffed beds were available statewide as of Thursday.

The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday announced 978 new cases including:

  • Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo, reported 230 new cases, and the county now 1,113 active cases.

  • Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck, reported an additional 99 cases, and it now has 773 active cases.
  • Ward County, which includes Minot, announced 78 new cases and now has 534 active cases.

About 9.7% of the 10,131 residents tested as part of the latest batch received a positive result, and an average of 11.5% of those tested in the last two weeks got a positive result. Like active cases, the state's positivity rate has decreased in the last two weeks.

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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