FARGO — Federal health officials have determined that the risk of catching the highly infectious coronavirus in Cass County has now risen to high from substantial.

Fargo Cass Public Health announced the county’s new classification by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, Aug. 12.

The county’s high transmission designation is the result of low vaccination rates combined with the higher transmission rate for the more infectious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Cass County now has 242 active COVID-19 cases, compared to 20 on July 1. Active cases span all age groups, health officials said, including children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination.

“Given this higher transmission status, we continue to stress the importance of vaccination to all who are eligible, as the majority of individuals being infected are in the unvaccinated population,” Dr. Tracie Newman, health officer for Fargo Cass Public Health, said in a statement.

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The transmission risk for Clay County remains substantial, according to the CDC.

Vaccination rates are higher in the older age groups. In Cass County, vaccination rates by age group are: 40% for those 12 to 18; 43% for those 19 to 29; 50% for those 30 to 39. The vaccination rate for those 40 and over is more than 60%.

The delta variant now accounts for more than 90% of cases in August, according to the CDC. The North Dakota Department of Health also has confirmed delta as the “likely predominant” variant in North Dakota.

The COVID-19 case rate in Cass County increased almost 70% in the week ending Tuesday, Aug. 10, according to the CDC.

The delta variant may cause more than twice as many infections, in part because those infected with the variant carry much higher viral loads than those infected by earlier strains.

In recent weeks, children under 12 have made up a substantially higher proportion of infections, a trend public health officials expect to continue.

Fargo Cass Public Health offers free COVID-19 vaccine at its main location, 1240 25th St. S., Fargo, each Tuesday during walk-in clinics and also by appointment Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.