BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday, April 9, confirmed a sixth North Dakotan has died from COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. The details on the deceased person will be released tomorrow because the family must be notified first, Burgum said.
Earlier in the day, the North Dakota Department of Health announced that a Stark County man in his 60s with underlying health issues succumbed to the illness after contracting it through community spread, meaning the source of the virus remains unknown. The man was the first person reported to have died from the illness in North Dakota who is under 70 years old.
Stark County, which encompasses Dickinson, has the third most cases of any county in the state at 29.
The department also announced 18 new cases of COVID-19 from all over the state.
The total positive tests for the virus in North Dakota is up to 269, however the department lists 101 people as having recovered from the illness. There are currently 14 residents hospitalized with the illness.
Six of the new cases Wednesday came from Cass County, including a woman in her 80s who caught the virus through close contact with another known case. The county's total is now up to 83 — more than 30% of the state's total.
One of the cases announced Thursday is the first in Richland County, which encompasses Wahpeton. A woman in her 60s from the county caught the virus through close contact with a known cases. Richland was previously the largest county in the state without a confirmed case of the illness.
A total of 8,990 tests for the virus have been reported to the state, and 29 counties now have at least one known case of the illness. However, Burgum has previously said that the cases are reported based on patients' mailing addresses rather than their actual location in the state, so it is unknown where infected patients are quarantining or seeking medical help.
The other 11 new cases Thursday came from Burleigh, McKenzie, Morton, Stark, Ward and Williams counties.
Burgum has frequently said he would only order more rigid restrictions to keep residents confined to their homes "when and if it makes sense." He expanded on that idea Thursday, saying the main factor he considers is hospital capacity.
The state is working to ramp up the number of beds in existing hospitals to 2,600, he said. If those facilities reach capacity, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have identified the Fargodome and the Fieldhouse at the University of Mary in Bismarck as potential sites for field hospitals.
Burgum said the state is "in great shape" because of the small number of people hospitalized with the illness and low rate of people testing positive, so any further "locking down" is not yet necessary.
The key to ensuring the state's health care system can withstand an influx of COVID-19 patients is tracing back all the people who had contact with a known carrier of the virus and isolating them from the public, he said. If the health department's efforts to perform contact tracing get even stronger, it could help slow the rate of transmission, Burgum said.
"The reason why we're doing (contact tracing) is not because like in two weeks we can stop doing this," Burgum said. "If we want to put this state and nation back to work, we're going to have to be really good at contact tracing."
First lady Kathryn Burgum also spoke at Thursday's press conference about battling mental health and addiction during the outbreak, which has limited in-person interactions. She said North Dakotans should reach out by phone or video chat to their family members, neighbors and friends who struggle to maintain their behavioral health. She urged those fighting addiction and depression to learn about available resources at https://www.behavioralhealth.nd.gov/.
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