Stutsman County has 82 positive cases of coronavirus, and the rising number of cases is concerning local health officials.

“We’re on the same trajectory as last year at this time,” said Robin Iszler, unit administrator, Central Valley Health District. “Because the delta variant which is the predominant strain that’s circulating right now in North Dakota is highly more contagious so it’s spreading more rapidly amongst the population.”

At the end of August in 2020, there were 118 active cases, compared to 82 on Sept. 8, Iszler noted.

“So one year later we’re starting to see the same rise,” she said.

Stutsman County’s coronavirus cases peaked at 528 on Nov. 17, 2020.

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Iszler said 200 people were tested this week at two testing clinics at the Jamestown Civic Center, and 23 of those people tested positive for COVID. There are 2,714 active cases in the state.

Iszler said the environment has also changed.

“We don’t have as much public health measures like the masking, like the social distancing … stuff is more back to normal but people are still contracting the disease,” she said.

Iszler said they are encouraging following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and people wearing face masks.

“We’re thankful that some of our businesses are still requiring their employees to be masked which is helpful,’ she said.

Mike Delfs, president and CEO of Jamestown Regional Medical Center, said he is also concerned about the increase in cases.

“In the last two weeks we’ve had several COVID patients who were admitted and prior to that it had been months since we had had any COVID cases at all,” he said. “So that’s a good barometer. I can tell you that quite a large number of people who are showing up in our Emergency Department are showing up with COVID-like symptoms and asking to be tested. ... we’re seeing people show up specifically COVID related in numbers and ways that we have not seen for months.”

Tania Nygaard, provider at Essentia Health in Jamestown, said the clinic has also seen a rise in cases in children along with other cases.

“This week we tested 27 individuals and of those, four came back positive,” she said. “All four were unvaccinated.”

Iszler said COVID infections in the community have included the fully vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated. The North Dakota Department of Health recently began releasing “breakthrough cases,” which refers to a person who has been COVID vaccinated contracting the virus. While the vaccine does not completely prevent a person from becoming infected with COVID, it significantly reduces the risk of becoming very ill, the Department of Health said. The health department said 1 in 15 unvaccinated individuals has tested positive for COVID while 1 in 147 fully vaccinated individuals has tested positive.

“What we want to make sure is that we don’t see the same kind of spike that we saw not quite a year ago happen all over again …,” Delfs said. “For a lot of the general public, when that spike goes down to them it feels like COVID is over and the reality is COVID wasn’t over and for our staff this is still very, very fresh ..."

He said he wants to make sure the public has an appreciation for how much time and effort the staff has put into caring for these patients.

“... we’re staring down the barrel of potentially round 2 and I just want to make sure that people understand that it doesn’t have to happen," Delfs said.

Iszler said 54.8% of Stutsman County's population has had at least one dose of the vaccine.

“There’s good science out there that says vaccinations while they may not prevent the disease entirely in all cases, it does make you far less susceptible and there is definitive proof right now,” Delfs said. “You just look at hospitals across the state that for people who got the vaccine they get far less sick than people who did not. And that’s the issue right now in larger hospitals, is that there are people occupying beds who were vaccine-resistant and they’re now occupying beds and there are other sick people - and we see this around the country - who can’t get in to be seen. And they don’t have anything COVID related. But there’s literally not enough beds and enough staff to cover that. I’d hate to see anything like that spread to Jamestown. Thank goodness, we’re not there.”

Delfs noted that in Fargo at Sanford Health, there are times it is close to full capacity. He said if a pandemic would hit, it makes him pause over what would happen to those patients who truly need help and there are not enough beds.

“The short story is, we’ve really good science that said vaccines help all of that quite a bit,” he said. “I would just encourage the heck out of people go check with your doctor, but the vaccine has been given 400 million times and any of the adverse effects are literally decimal points to the right of 1% where there’s been an issue. That is by far the safest vaccine that the U.S. has ever seen. I would say work with your doctor but if you can, go get the vaccine. It will help hospitals, it will definitely help your friends, neighbors and your family.”

Testing is available at the Jamestown Civic Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Central Valley Health District is partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health on the testing, Iszler said.

“Appointments at our vaccine clinics are full and more people are calling to make vaccine appointments,” she said.

Nygaard said Essentia Health is strongly encouraging all who are eligible to get vaccinated.

“The vaccine not only substantially reduces your chances of getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of spreading this disease to those whose immune systems are not strong enough to fight this - elderly, young children, babies, cancer patients, immunocompromised,” Nygaard said.

Tonie Lagodinski, administrator for Ave Maria Village, said Ave is also concerned about the rising cases in the county and continues to follow guidance from the CDC, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the North Dakota Department of health.

“This includes testing all residents and employees and reporting positive cases to the state Department of Health,” she said. “Our staff and residents are following the recommended preventative actions."

JRMC implemented a surge plan during the pandemic, which Delfs said is available should it be needed again.

“The concern is that when you put that plan in place it also puts a lot of stress on all the staff working here,” he said. “Things like mandated stays for staff to be able to stay and take care of patients. Things like how do we now start dividing rooms up between COVID positive and non-COVID positive patients because we also have regular patients we should be taking care of. So when the plan goes into place it produces an immense amount of stress on the organization.”

With the rising COVID cases in the state, JRMC recently updated its visitor policy to one designated visitor per patient. Exceptions include no visitors in the Emergency Department (with exceptions for children as well as adults with special needs). The other exception to the one-visitor rule is end-of-life care.

For information on vaccination and testing events, visit centralvalleyhealth.org for up-to-date information. For more information, call CVHD at 252-8130.