Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



North Dakota leaders plead for vaccination, masking as COVID-19 surge looms

Leaders from health care giants Sanford, Essentia, Altru, CHI St. Alexius and Trinity said hospitals in the state’s biggest cities are already pushing up against their limits as staffing issues abound and COVID-19 hospitalizations shoot up.

Screen Shot 2021-09-01 at 10.07.56 AM.png
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at a virtual COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Screenshot courtesy of North Dakota Governor's Office

BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and top hospital officials assembled at a news conference on Wednesday, Sept. 1, to deliver a uniform message: If residents don’t seek COVID-19 vaccines, wear masks and resume social distancing at greater rates, the state's health care system could become overwhelmed in the weeks ahead.

States like Mississippi, where hospitals have reached their breaking point , should provide North Dakotans with a cautionary tale, Burgum said.

“It could happen here because we have some of the same characteristics of limited (hospital) capacity and low vaccination rates,” Burgum said.

Leaders from health care giants Sanford, Essentia, Altru, CHI St. Alexius and Trinity said hospitals in the state’s biggest cities are already pushing up against their limits as staffing issues abound and COVID-19 hospitalizations shoot up.


North Dakota leaders plead for vaccination, masking as COVID-19 surge looms

Fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, North Dakota’s COVID-19 infections increased fivefold in August, and hospital officials like Sanford Bismarck CEO and President Dr. Michael LeBeau project the state's peak in cases won't come until at least late September .

The virus is taking away options from the health care field and patients, said Dr. Jeffrey Sather, Trinity Minot's chief of medical staff. Slammed hospitals are having to postpone surgeries and other scheduled procedures, while patients might have to travel hundreds of miles to get medical care if their local providers are short on staff, space or resources, he said.

Though none of the major hospitals have suspended elective surgeries altogether, LeBeau and Sather said their hospitals reevaluate capacity on a daily basis and frequently put off procedures if dedicating resources to them would be too straining. LeBeau said Sanford Fargo has already put a plan in place to cut down on surgeries by 30% to free up capacity.

If the alarming rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations continues, Sather said short-staffed hospitals may stretch nurses very thin and have unskilled workers looking after patients. When hospitals can’t do “regular business,” everyone requiring medical attention suffers.

LeBeau said he thinks the state’s health care system will flex to take on the challenge of high admissions and hampered capacity, but it comes at a cost: Frontline health care workers will have to pick up the slack and people seeking medical care will suffer and sometimes die from otherwise preventable ailments.

Burgum noted that “Not only is this (surge) not the same as a year ago because we have better tools, but we’ve also got more constraints.”


The vaccine is proven to prevent many COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths — roughly 90% of those hospitalized with the virus in North Dakota are not fully vaccinated. Residents who are fully immunized, including most older residents, will largely avoid serious illness from COVID-19 and have a better chance of staying out of the hospital during the imminent surge.

However, traveling nurses are not available like they were last year because many are helping in the hard-hit southern U.S., Burgum said. That means there’s less relief for hospitals suffering from low staffing.

Unvaccinated residents have a choice, and if they choose to forgo the shot, they risk being hospitalized and negatively impacting their loved ones and people they don’t even know who might need the hospital bed they’re occupying, Burgum said.

Statewide case rates


  • ACTIVE CASES*: 2,442




*The Department of Health often amends the number of active cases after they are first reported.

Nearly 20% of active COVID-19 cases in North Dakota are among adolescents under 15 years of age, according to data from the North Dakota Department of Health.

More young people are becoming infected with COVID-19 and needing hospitalization in North Dakota and nationwide compared to a year ago, health officials said on Wednesday. The rise is largely due to the highly contagious delta variant, which is the source of most COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and in North Dakota.

Four children under 15 years of age were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in North Dakota as of Wednesday, according to the state.

Almost 20% of the new positive cases reported were among youth under 15, according to Department of Health data.


Cass County, which encompasses Fargo, has the most known active cases in the state with 474. Burleigh County had 451 known cases as of Wednesday, and Ward County, which encompasses Minot, had 204.

The state's 14-day rolling average positivity rate was 6.54% as of Tuesday, and since June 27, there have been 184 cases of reinfection.

Hospitalizations, deaths


  • DEATHS: 1

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 1,561

North Dakota had 16 staffed ICU beds available throughout the state as of Tuesday, along with 199 staffed inpatient beds. There was one available staffed ICU bed among Bismarck's two hospitals as of Tuesday, 10 staffed ICU beds available among Fargo’s three hospitals and two available in Grand Forks.
The Department of Health began releasing data about breakthrough cases last week. A breakthrough case occurs when a person tests COVID-19 positive after they are fully vaccinated. During the week of Aug. 22, the state reported 12 hospitalizations where the person was fully vaccinated and 77 hospitalizations where the person was not fully vaccinated.


  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED*: 348,119 (52.6% of population ages 12 and up)

  • FULL VACCINE COVERAGE*: 320,773 (48.1% of population ages 12 and up)

*These figures come from the state's vaccine dashboard , though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , which includes vaccinations performed at federal sites, reports slightly higher vaccination rates.

North Dakota’s vaccination rate is among the lowest in the United States, ranking 42 out of 50, Burgum said on Wednesday. Even though about 48% of all North Dakotans are fully vaccinated, the rate among residents ages 12 to 18 is only about 25%.

Even though a person can be infected with COVID-19 after they are fully vaccinated, health officials emphasize that those who are inoculated often experience less severe symptoms and have a less likely chance of being hospitalized.

More than 320,000 North Dakotans are fully vaccinated and 0.0405% of them were hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to the Department of Health. The chance of infection also decreases when a person is vaccinated.

In North Dakota, one in 175 fully vaccinated people have tested COVID-19 positive, compared to one in 15 unvaccinated individuals, according to the Department of Health. More information about vaccines can be found at www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator .

As a public service, we’ve opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status. If this coverage is important to you, please consider supporting local journalism by clicking on the subscribe button in the upper righthand corner of the homepage.

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

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
What To Read Next
Host Bryan Piatt is joined by Matt Entz, head coach of the North Dakota State Bison football team, to discuss the pressures of leading the program and how mental health is addressed with his players.
Artificial intelligence can now act as an artist or a writer. Does that mean AI is ready to play doctor? Many institutions, including Mayo Clinic, believe that AI is ready to become a useful tool.
Columnist Carol Bradley Bursack lists the various reason why some older adults may begin to shuffle as they age.
The Buffalo Bills safety who suffered a cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football in January is urging people to learn how to save lives the way his was saved.