BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Tuesday, Aug. 4, announced 149 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths from the illness.

There are now 1,111 North Dakotans known to be infected with the virus, marking the highest point of the pandemic as new cases continue to outpace recoveries.

The department also announced Tuesday that a Griggs County man in his 60s and a Sioux County woman in her 70s have died from the illness. Like the vast majority of North Dakotans who have succumbed to the illness, the department reports that both residents had underlying health conditions.

The two deaths add to a growing number of victims from rural counties: Griggs lies north of Valley City in the eastern part of the state, and Sioux includes the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the southern part of the state.

The department says 107 North Dakotans have died from the illness, including 76 residents of Cass County, which includes Fargo and West Fargo. Sixty-seven of the deaths have come in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. There are still four deaths that remain in a "presumed positive" category, which means a medical professional determined that COVID-19 was a cause of death but the person was not tested for the illness while he or she was alive.

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Thirty-three of the new cases came from Benson County, which includes most of the Spirit Lake Dakota Reservation and has seen one of the state's most significant outbreaks in the last three weeks. There are now 69 residents of the county infected with the virus. Spirit Lake tribal leaders mandated mask-wearing in public and instituted a curfew in the last few weeks to combat the spread of the virus. Ramsey County, which includes Devils Lake and lies north of Benson, reported 13 new cases.

Gov. Doug Burgum said his understanding of the reservation's outbreak is still developing, though he noted that contact tracing efforts had found a few cases tied to the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort. Burgum said the state is coordinating with tribal leaders to provide masks and more testing to ensure the virus doesn't continue to spread at such a rapid pace.

Twenty-nine of the new cases came from Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck. The county has by far the most active cases in the state at 269. Morton County, which sits just west of Burleigh County and includes Mandan, reported 11 new cases.

Burgum announced Tuesday the leaders of a new COVID-19 task force being formed to address the growing hotspot around the capital city. Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch will lead the group that also includes Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken, state COO Tammy Miller and Vern Dosch, a retired businessman who is leading the state's contact tracing efforts. A similar task force was created in Fargo to address the area's outbreak in May.

Just eight of the new cases reported Tuesday came from Cass County, which has 98 active cases.

Twenty-six counties reported at least one case Tuesday, including many small, rural counties.

There are now 51 residents hospitalized with the illness, up five from Monday.

About 3% of the 4,904 test results announced Tuesday came back positive, but 5.8% of residents tested for the first time received a positive result, according to the department's health analytics team.

North Dakota does not regularly report a seven-day rolling average for positivity rate as many other states do, but Forum News Service calculated the rate to be 5.3% for tests taken on previously untested residents.

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