FARGO — The recent decline in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 treated by Sanford Health has continued a week after Thanksgiving — but a leading doctor cautions that it’s too early to gauge the full impact of gatherings over the holiday.

The census of COVID-19 patients at Sanford Broadway Medical Center is running at around 80-plus patients, down from a trend that consistently hovered around 100 and reached as high as 115 or 116, Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and chief medical officer of Sanford Fargo, said Thursday, Dec. 3.

“The numbers indeed have steadily been declining a little bit,” he said. “We’re seeing the same trend as seen across the state.”

The number of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, however, has been stable at between 30 and 37, Griffin said. Half of those patients are on ventilators.

“But we’re doing OK for staffing,” he said. “Our staff is working very hard.” Overall, admissions remain very high.

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The Sanford Broadway Medical Center in downtown Fargo is North Dakota's largest care center for hospitalized coronavirus infection patients.

Statewide, 305 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Thursday, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. North Dakota’s active cases, which for weeks exceeded 10,000, recently have dipped below 5,500, a decline that began around the time a statewide mask mandate was imposed in mid-November.

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The statewide mask mandate, which was preceded by local mandates in Fargo, West Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks and other cities, seems to have helped reduce the spread of the virus, Griffin said.

Still, with winter just beginning and the Christmas and New Year holidays ahead, people must maintain their vigilance, he said, by avoiding large gatherings, wearing a mask in public and maintaining safe distances.

“We can’t really let our guard down now,” Griffin said.

Thursday was exactly a week following Thanksgiving. While symptoms can appear within five to seven days after infection, hospital cases often result about two weeks later.

“We’re not really seeing that yet in hospitalizations,” Griffin said, adding that the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings should be evident in another week.

Sanford will run a fresh forecast of the pandemic trajectory, but recently cases have been running a bit below the model’s forecast, which is encouraging but it isn’t clear if that will last, Griffin said.

“It’s really tough because we just don’t have the effect of Thanksgiving yet,” he said. Combined with COVID-19 admissions running steady or declining, the signs for now are encouraging, although clouded by uncertainty.

“We could be at our peak or we could be getting ready for a second or third peak,” Griffin said.

Sanford recently added an infusion center for outpatient treatments for COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of developing complications, including those who are 65 or older and those with underlying conditions.

The treatments, which involve artificial antibodies to help the immune system fight the infection, are helping to allow people to receive treatment outside the hospital, Griffin said. So far, Sanford has treated more than 50 patients, and the results have been encouraging.

"The preliminary studies show this could have a significant reduction in hospitalizations," Griffin said. The treatments help to keep symptoms from progressing, he said.

Essentia Health also has seen a dip in COVID-19 admissions.

"While we are seeing a slight decrease in COVID-related illness, we are still very busy with other sick patients," Essentia spokeswoman Tara Ekren said. "And it's still too early to tell the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel."