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North Dakota sets record highs in number of COVID-19 positive cases, active cases and tests

3D print of a SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—virus particle. The virus surface (blue) is covered with spike proteins (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells. (Submitted / National Institutes of Health)

BISMARCK — North Dakota set COVID-19 record highs on Thursday, Aug. 20, and the state is now experiencing the largest presence of COVID-19 it has weathered to date.

The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday announced record highs in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in one day and set a new milestone for the prevalence of active cases in the state.

Thursday's record-breaking numbers included 7,738 additional tests and 274 new positive cases. The number of tests has increased because universities statewide are beginning to hold COVID-19 testing events as students return to campus to begin fall classes, a Department of Health spokesperson said.

North Dakota saw a huge increase in active cases with now almost 1,400 North Dakotans known to be infected — a landmark the state will almost certainly break as the number of COVID-19 cases only continues to rise.

Stark County, which encompasses Dickinson, saw an additional 65 cases, according to numbers released Thursday, and the county now has the second-most known active cases with 187.


Burleigh County continues to have the highest number of active cases with 354 and saw 50 additional cases Thursday. The county emerged as the state's hotspot over the last two months. Its neighboring county, Morton, now has 117 active cases.

Though cases have continued to increase, North Dakota is still in the "green" or "low-risk" level, though it appears very close to the "moderate" level. Gov. Doug Burgum has said he does not want to move up on the scale until his office sees a long-term trend.

At a news conference Wednesday, Burgum announced the resignation of Dr. Andrew Stahl, North Dakota's top health official. His departure marks the second time an official has stepped down from the position since the pandemic hit the state.

The health department says 130 North Dakotans have died from the illness, including 76 residents of Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo. Seventy-two of the state's deaths have come from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The number of hospitalized residents decreased by four from Wednesday to 45, including 15 residents in intensive care due to COVID-19.

Thirty-four of the new cases reported Thursday came from Ward County, which encompasses Minot, and 32 new cases came from Grand Forks County.

About 3.5% of the 7,738 test results announced Thursday came back positive, but 6.6% of residents tested for the first time received a positive result.

North Dakota does not regularly report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate as many other states do, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 6.5% for tests taken on previously untested residents. It's the highest rate since the beginning of the month.


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

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Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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