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Port: Active COVID cases up 43% in last three weeks, but there's evidence vaccines are working

After bottoming out on Feb. 28 at 553 cases, today's count was 794, a more than 43% increase in just over three weeks. It's not a great trend, but not a surprising one either.

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Dr. Matthew Viscito, Chief Medical Officer at Unity Medical Center in Grafton, rolls up his sleeve as LPN Kari Novak gives him one of the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 22, at Unity Medical Center in Grafton. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's count of active COVID-19 cases has been climbing in recent weeks.

After bottoming out on Feb. 28 at 553 cases, today's count was 794, a more than 43% increase in just over three weeks.

It's not a great trend, but not a surprising one either. The provisions and restrictions we put in place to control the spread of this coronavirus have slowly been relaxed. Gov. Doug Burgum allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire in mid-January. Since then local communities have eased their own mandates. Businesses are opening for longer hours again to bigger crowds.

Those businesses that still have mask mandates don't seem to be enforcing them very stringently anymore. My family and I made a trip to the local shopping mall last weekend. We all wore our masks, but we were very much in the minority despite both the mall, and many of the businesses therein, making it clear that customers were to cover their faces.

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EMBED: Department of Health Active Case numbers
North Dakota Department of Health charts showing active cases and the rolling positivity rate

It's understandable.

The vaccines are rolling out.

Our numbers for active cases and hospitalizations are way down from their peaks late last year.

Our society, weary of the restrictions and mandates, has been letting down its hair a bit, and that's manifesting itself with some upward creep in the COVID-19 numbers.

Is it something to be worried about? Maybe. The numbers are still low, but we don't want them to keep growing either. Hopefully, they'll plateau and decline again soon as more people get vaccinated.

As to that, there are some signs that, even as active cases climb again, the vaccines are knocking the rough edges off the impact that has on public health.

On our state's worst day with the virus to date, as measured by hospitalizations, we had 333 people admitted statewide according to Department of Health data . That was Nov. 11, 2020. That same day, we had 9,748 active cases, meaning almost 1 in 30 people with an active case of COVID-19 was in the hospital.

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Our peak for active cases was just a couple of days later, on Nov. 13, when we hit 10,430. That day we had 316 people hospitalized, or 1 in about 33 people with active cases of COVID-19.

Today that ratio is much improved. With 794 active cases, we have just 19 people hospitalized, for a ratio of 1 in 41.

That's actually an improvement even from our low-ebb of active cases on Feb. 28 when there were was about 1 hospitalization for every 23 active cases.

Why would hospitalization rates be lower, even when active cases climb?

EMBED: ND Department of Health Vaccination Trends
A chart showing vaccination trends for age groups from the North Dakota Department of Health

One part of the explanation is who we've vaccinated. Our most vulnerable populations, those with a much higher likelihood to need hospitalization if they came down with the virus, got the shot first. Those in the state who aren't yet vaccinated — a number that shrinks every day — are also, generally, healthier than those who have it, and thus less likely to need the hospital.

The other part is that while the vaccines are very good at providing immunity, they're even better at preventing hospitalizations. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, has a 95% efficacy rate against new infections, but a 100 percent rate against preventing severe cases.

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Those numbers are 72% and 86% for the Johnson & Johnson shot, for the purposes of comparison.

What this means is that the vaccines aren't a silver bullet to stop the spread of the virus. Active cases can still go up, even as more of us are vaccinated. Still, the spread should be significantly slowed, and the impact the virus will have on a vaccinated person should be far less severe, in the aggregate, than someone who is not vaccinated.

In summary, get the shot, or if you're unsure if you should, talk to your doctor about it.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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