BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, Oct. 15, reported five deaths from COVID-19 and another record-high number of active cases.

Health officials confirmed the deaths of a Bottineau County woman, a Cavalier County woman, a Mercer County man, a Morton County woman and a Ward County man. All of the victims were at least 70 years old and had underlying health conditions.

The department says 370 North Dakotans have succumbed to the illness since March, and deaths have been mounting at rapid pace over the last two months. The 103 deaths recorded in October so far put it on pace to be by far the deadliest month of the pandemic. There were 120 deaths reported in September.

At least 230 of the state's deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, many of which have been decimated by the virus in the last two months. Five facilities have 15 or more infected residents, including Minot's Somerset Courts, which has 56 residents with the virus, according to the department.

There are now 4,947 North Dakotans known to be infected with the virus. It's the eighth day in a row the state has set a new pandemic record.

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North Dakota has reported the most COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in the nation over the last week, according to The New York Times. The whole region is experiencing a surge in cases, with South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana and Minnesota all identified by the publication as states where infections are "high and staying high."

The number of hospitalized residents due to the illness sits at 138 on Thursday. Another 69 patients were initially hospitalized with some other ailment but later tested positive for COVID-19. Thirty-eight residents with the virus are in intensive care.

North Dakotans who are transferred out of state for medical care are not tracked by the health department, spokeswoman Nicole Peske said.

The state is battling through a shortage of available hospital beds as COVID-19 hospitalizations converge with strains on health care staffing and high noncoronavirus admissions. There are 23 available intensive care beds and 243 regular, inpatient beds in the whole state.

The situation is especially urgent in Bismarck, where the two hospitals have one available ICU bed and five inpatient beds between them. Hospitals in Dickinson and Minot have no available ICU beds, while Williston has just one.

Fargo's three hospitals have 10 open ICU beds and 10 inpatient beds, while Grand Forks' Altru hospital has seven ICU beds and 27 inpatient beds.

The health department reported 705 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

All but five of the state's 53 counties reported at least one case Thursday.

Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck, reported 134 new cases Thursday. The county has the second most active cases in the state with 880. Morton County, which sits just west of Burleigh County and includes Mandan, reported 67 new cases and has 314 active cases.

Cass County, which includes Fargo, reported 93 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The state's most populous county has seen a spike in new infections over the last two weeks and now has the most active cases in the state with 1,006. That's more than all of North Dakota had as recently as mid-August.

The state's two largest metro areas account for about 44% of the active cases in the state.

Fifty-four new cases came from Ward County, which includes Minot. The county now has the third most active cases in the state at 357.

Grand Forks County reported 40 new cases, bringing its active case count to 317.

Thirty-one cases came from rural Mercer County, which lies northwest of Bismarck.

About 10.5% of the 6,746 residents tested as part of the latest batch received a positive result, but 18.3% of residents tested for the first time got a positive result.

North Dakota does not report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 8.7% for all residents tested and 15.5% for tests taken on previously untested residents. Both rates are the highest since Forum News Service started tracking the figures at the beginning of August.

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