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'Viral blizzard’ hits Cass County as coronavirus infections reach new record

Cass County's active COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed to a new record as omicron surges, and on Thursday, Jan. 13, North Dakota reached a pandemic high for the number of new cases reported in one day.

Coronavirus
Transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like.
Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease-Rocky Mountain Laboratories
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FARGO — The spike in infections as the omicron wave strikes has pushed active cases in Cass County to a new record above the peak in November 2020 before vaccines were available.

Reported active cases in Cass County have reached 2,559, according to figures reported Thursday, Jan. 13, by the North Dakota Department of Health. That's nearly 50% higher than the case peak in November 2020 and far surpasses the 977-case apex during the recently passed delta wave.

North Dakota broke a statewide pandemic milestone Thursday by recording more than 2,600 new COVID-19 cases in one day. The state broke its previous one-day positive case high just the day before, and officials say the state is only in the beginning of a wave spurred by the highly contagious omicron variant.

During a virtual town hall Thursday, North Dakota health officials highlighted the state's soaring coronavirus cases and predicted that COVID-19 hospitalizations will rise in the coming weeks because the virus is so prevalent in the state, noting that North Dakota has one of the country's lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

cass chart.PNG
Troy Becker / The Forum

Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health, warned on Thursday that soaring infections could cause disruptions, including temporary school and business shutdowns as staff members are out sick.

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“The next three weeks are predicted to be quite rough,” Fleming said. She noted that Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, has characterized the surge in cases that will sweep the country as a “viral blizzard.”

In the latest surveillance testing by the North Dakota state laboratory, 81% of samples collected over the past week for genetic analysis were the omicron variant. The rest were the delta variant, which is rapidly being overtaken by omicron.

North Dakota's soaring cases will likely peak at the start of February and begin to decline in the following weeks, said Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at North Dakota State University, on Thursday.

In a sign of omicron’s rapid spread, the 14-day rolling positivity rate statewide is 15.08%, nearing North Dakota's record of 15.9% back in November 2020. Cass County's 14-day rolling positivity rate is 18.1%.

Statewide, North Dakota’s active cases rose to 7,463, which is 230% more cases than the state reported a month ago. Although North Dakota's active cases and 14-day rolling positivity rate mirror data reported during the state's surge in November 2020, the number of COVID-19 deaths announced in the last month is substantially lower in comparison, largely because of COVID-19 vaccines.

On top of the state's overall low vaccination rate, the number of children getting inoculated is small, and health officials said the vast majority of children who have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since Sept. 1 were not fully vaccinated.

"It's critical that if you want to prevent your child from potentially being hospitalized with COVID-19 that you get them vaccinated," State Immunization Manager Molly Howell said.

Health officials urged North Dakotans to talk to their health care provider about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Statewide, residents who are vaccinated are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and develop severe symptoms.

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Even though North Dakota is in the midst of an infection surge, officials say it is not too late to get inoculated. Officials recommend that everyone over age 5 get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Because of the public’s laxity in following mitigation steps, including getting vaccinated and wearing masks, Fleming said the spike in infections from the omicron wave is unavoidable.

“Given our vaccination status and mask usage and (lack of) mitigation going on, I’m not surprised,” she said.

Almost two years into the pandemic, people are becoming numb to the risks, Fleming said. “I think we’ve slowly been desensitized,” she said. “We’ve been in this high state of response for over two years. People might get excited for a day or two, then it’s back to business.”

Although public health officials no longer are recommending mask mandates, that’s not because they don’t believe they’re effective, Fleming said. Instead, she added, public health officials have stopped stressing mask wearing because it’s become a highly polarizing issue, and compliance would be poor.

Because of omicron’s high transmissibility, she recommends that people — especially those who are vulnerable — limit their activities for the next few weeks, until the infection wave subsides.

The following are COVID-19 case rates, deaths and hospitalizations from the North Dakota Department of Health as of Thursday.

Statewide case rates

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  • NEW CASES REPORTED: 2,631
  • ACTIVE CASES: 7,463
  • DAILY POSITIVITY RATE: 18.78%
  • 14-DAY ROLLING POSITIVITY RATE: 15.08%
  • TOTAL KNOWN CASES THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 190,144
  • TOTAL RECOVERED THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 180,638

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 128
  • DEATHS REPORTED THURSDAY: 2
  • TOTAL DEATHS: 2,043

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 479,486 (62.9% of population)
  • FULL VACCINE COVERAGE: 404,900 (53.1% of population)
  • BOOSTER DOSES ADMINISTERED: 165,977 (21.3% of population)

The top two figures are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the bottom figure is from the state's vaccine dashboard .

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

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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