BISMARCK — North Dakotans who identify as black or Asian are more likely to contract COVID-19 than their white and Native American neighbors, Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference on Wednesday, May 20.

Overall, nearly 38% of residents who tested positive for the illness self-identified as people of color. However, Burgum noted that about 16% of the people who have tested positive in the state declined to include their race when asked, which leaves a significant hole in the data.

Black residents make up more than a quarter of all the North Dakotans who have tested positive for the illness, despite only accounting for about 2.7% of the state's population. Asian residents make up about 6% of positive cases, but only about 1.5% of the population, according to the recent demographic estimates.

Meanwhile, positive rates among Native American residents in the state are roughly in line with their share of the population.

Both black and Native American residents are far more likely than whites to have been tested for the illness, which Burgum attributed to the fact that people of color make up a disproportionately large section of the state's workforce, and therefore, have more close contact with other people.

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"And we know that when you test more, you tend to see more positives," Burgum said.

People of color are also more likely to live in densely populated urban areas and households, which may make it easier to catch the virus and more difficult to isolate when sick, Burgum said. He noted that many of those testing positives are essential workers who care for older adults and other vulnerable residents.

Burgum urged North Dakotans not to make incorrect conclusions or create racial stigmas and reminded residents that the virus "does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity." There is no evidence from medical research to suggest that one race is more susceptible to the virus than any other.

Earlier in the day, the state health department announced 102 new cases of COVID-19. The number of cases marks a single-day high and the first day of the pandemic with a three-figure case count.

The department also confirmed the deaths of four men from the illness. The men, all over 60, were residents of Cass County, which includes the Fargo area and has seen the bulk of the state's COVID-19 cases.

Like every other victim of the illness in North Dakota, the men had underlying health conditions, according to the department. 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.

Forty-nine North Dakotans, including 38 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 91,000 lives nationwide. At least 29 of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to the department.

A total of 2,095 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but more than 60% have recovered from the illness, including 33 announced Wednesday. There are 38 residents hospitalized with the illness, up eight from Tuesday.

Nearly half of the new cases announced Wednesday are tied to nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state. There are now 426 cases in residents and employees of the facilities, which have been the subject of targeted and repeated testing by the state.

An executive order restricting visitation at nursing homes remains in place as other restrictions on movement and business closures have been lifted. Nursing homes are particularly susceptible to deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 because many residents are 65 or older and have underlying conditions.

Villa Maria and Rosewood on Broadway, both in Fargo, have seen the most cases of any facilities in the state with more than 50 each.

Forty-nine of the new cases Wednesday came from Cass County. The county now has more than 1,277 known cases, but the department reports that more than half of the previously infected residents have recovered.

Twenty-three of the new cases came from Morton County, which encompasses Mandan. The county was initially a hotspot for the illness in March, but it has seen a decline in new cases over the last two months. Nine of the new cases are likely tied to residents and employees at Elm Crest Manor, a nursing home in New Salem. Another nine new cases were also announced in Marian Manor nursing home in Glen Ullin.

In a surprising result, 18 of the new cases came from Traill County, which sits between Cass and Grand Forks counties and has a population of about 8,000. It appears that all of the cases in the county are tied to residents and employees at Luther Memorial Home, a nursing home in Mayville. All 20 cases in the facility are asymptomatic, and follow-up testing in the facility is planned in two weeks. Before Wednesday, the county had only two positive cases.

The other 12 new cases Wednesday came from Burleigh, Grand Forks, Nelson, Richland, Stutsman, Walsh, Ward and Williams counties.

The state announced more than 2,100 test results Wednesday, however about 600 of the people in the latest batch had previously been tested for the virus. Burgum has stated that he would like to see regular testing of vulnerable residents, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

A total of 72,003 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.

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