BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, May 21, announced 134 new cases of COVID-19. It's the highest number of cases confirmed in a single day of the pandemic and the second consecutive day with a new case count over 100.

The department also confirmed the deaths of a man in his 90s and another in his 70s from the illness. Both men 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.

Fifty-one North Dakotans, including 40 residents of Cass County, have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 93,000 lives nationwide.

Forty 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.

A total of 2,229 North Dakota residents have tested positive, but 60% have recovered from the illness. There are 39 residents hospitalized with the illness, up one from Wednesday.

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Ninety-three of the new cases Thursday came from Cass County. The county now has 1,370 known cases, but the department reports that about 55% of the infected residents in the county have recovered. About two-thirds of currently infected North Dakotans reside in Cass County.

Nine of the new Cass County cases are tied to residents and employees of nursing homes in Fargo, including three new cases each from Villa Maria and Pioneer House Assisted Living. The rest of the new cases are not detailed in the information given out by the health department.

Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health and the recently formed Red River COVID-19 Task Force, said local health officials are dedicating 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.

Fleming said the local strategy shifted away two weeks ago from large-scale testing events that are open to the general population, like the ones completed at the Fargodome last month, because they are much less effective in finding positives than targeted testing. She noted that testing resources could've been better used in the first month and a half of the pandemic when the state performed a considerable amount of "surveillance testing" on random sections of the public.

The new local strategy also includes regular testing of nursing home and other direct care workers, who are essentially the only linkage between the general public and the vulnerable populations inside the facilities, Fleming said.

Twenty-four of the new cases Thursday came from Ward County, which encompasses Minot. The first known cases of the illness came in the county, but the area has seen few cases over the last month. The county now has 53 known cases, but 21 residents have recovered.

The other 17 new cases Thursday came from Bottineau, Burleigh Emmons, Mercer, Morton, Pierce, Ramsey and Richland counties.

The state announced more than 2,750 test results Thursday, marking one of the highest testing totals of the pandemic. About 700 of the people in the latest batch had previously been tested for the virus. Gov. Doug 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 nearly 75,000 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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