BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Wednesday, May 27, announced two more Cass County women have died from COVID-19.

Like every other victim of the illness, the department said both women, one in her 70s and another in her 90s, had underlying health conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults and people with HIV, diabetes, asthma, liver disease or other conditions that compromise one's immune system are at a greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

Fifty-six North Dakotans, including 45 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 100,000 lives nationwide. More than 70% of the deaths in the state have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which are viewed as particularly susceptible to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 because many residents are 65 or older and have underlying conditions.

The department also confirmed 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Just over 1,000 test results were reported Wednesday, marking a second day in a row with testing well below the state's normal marks in the 2,000s. Department spokeswoman Nicole Peske attributed the low testing figures to the Memorial Day holiday.

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A total of 2,439 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but more than 70% have recovered from the illness. There are 40 residents hospitalized with the illness.

However, the state's case count has been artificially high the past several days because 82 positive test results temporarily counted in the positive column even though they were considered inconclusive due to an equipment malfunction in two testing machines.

By Wednesday morning, 74 of the people from whom the inconclusive samples were taken had been retested, with just one returning positive. One of the people initially tested refused a second test and is self-isolating at home, according to the department.

Sixteen of the new cases Wednesday came from Cass County. The county now has 1,596 known cases, but the department reports more than 65% of the infected residents in the county have recovered. Nearly four in five currently infected North Dakotans reside in Cass County.

Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health and the recently formed Red River COVID-19 Task Force, said last week local health officials are dedicating nearly all their energy to targeted testing on vulnerable residents, high-risk workers and people who have been identified as close contacts of other COVID-19 patients.

The only other new case Wednesday came from Grand Forks County, which has the second most active cases in the state at 29.

The state announced 1,048 test results Wednesday, but almost half of the people in the latest batch had previously been tested for the virus. Gov. Doug Burgum said the state is performing regular testing of those living and working in nursing homes.

A total of 86,527 tests have been performed, but some residents have been tested more than once.

Burgum said the state and its health care providers aim to perform 4,000 tests per day by the end of the month. He has maintained throughout the pandemic that widespread available testing is the key to restoring normalcy to work and home life.

State lab director Christie Massen said the lab hopes to bring on two new machines this week that will significantly boost testing capacity.

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