BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, Sept. 16, reported four new COVID-19 deaths and an increase in active virus cases.

As the highly contagious delta variant has lately driven virus surges in many parts of the country, the federal government announced earlier this week that it would take over distribution of monoclonal antibodies, a treatment that doctors have used to decrease the viral load in COVID-positive individuals and dramatically decrease their likelihood of hospitalization.

With demand for the free treatment soaring nationally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would ration distribution of the antibodies based on states' case and hospital burdens. In recent weeks, seven Southern states have accounted for 70% of monoclonal antibody supply, The Washington Post reported, and the new approach is expected to decrease the share sent to those states.

In a statement on the federal change on Thursday, the North Dakota health department said the state was allocated 400 treatment units this week, a supply that it does not expect to meet demand.

“Those who have been hesitant about receiving COVID-19 vaccine may be counting on monoclonal antibodies for treatment if they become sick,” said state Health Officer Nizar Wehbi, who noted that a very limited supply of monoclonal antibodies may hinder access to them for many North Dakotans. "Vaccination is still the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. North Dakotans who have not yet been vaccinated are encouraged to do so.”

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Active virus positives in North Dakota increased by 182 on Thursday compared to the previous day. Nearly half of North Dakota's 3,422 active cases are among residents under 30 years of age. On Thursday, 100 of the new positive cases were reported among children younger than 12 — an age group that is not yet eligible for inoculation against the virus.

Doctors and public health experts in North Dakota have projected that the peak of the state's current delta surge is likely still several weeks away.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES REPORTED SEPT. 16: 579
  • ACTIVE CASES*: 3,422
  • DAILY POSITIVITY RATE: 5.8%
  • TOTAL KNOWN CASES THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 124,620
  • TOTAL RECOVERED THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 119,614

*The Department of Health often amends the number of active cases after they are first reported.

Burleigh County, which encompasses Bismarck, surpassed Cass County this week for the most known active cases in the state, with 642. Cass, which includes Fargo, had 613 known cases as of Thursday, and Stark County, which encompasses Dickinson, had 267.

Pembina County, in northeast North Dakota, reported the worst per capita outbreak of any North Dakota county on Thursday, according to the health department's dashboard. Many counties in western North Dakota, where vaccination rates tend to be low, have shown higher per capita cases of the virus than eastern counties in the last few weeks.

North Dakota's 14-day rolling average positivity rate is 6.3%.

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 107

  • DEATHS: 4

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 1,584

The North Dakota Department of Health reported four additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, including one in McKenzie County, one in Mountrail County and two in Morton County.

Virus hospitalizations dropped by two from the previous day on Thursday and have hovered above 100 since a recent high of 137 at the end of August. Hospitals in North Dakota continue to be overwhelmed due to staffing shortages and high admissions of COVID and non-COVID patients.

North Dakota had just 11 staffed intensive care beds available throughout the state as of Wednesday, Sept. 15, along with 190 staffed inpatient beds, according to a health department database. Bismarck's two hospitals had no ICU beds and just two inpatient beds available between them, while Fargo's three hospitals had a combined six ICU beds and three inpatient beds. Hospital bed availability is constantly in flux, and the state's database only provides a limited snapshot of the capacity in North Dakota health care centers.

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED*: 358,641 (54.2% of population ages 12 and up)

  • FULL VACCINE COVERAGE*: 330,484 (49.9% of population ages 12 and up)

*These figures come from the state's vaccine dashboard, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes vaccinations performed at federal sites, reports slightly higher vaccination rates.

The Department of Health encourages individuals to get information about vaccines at www.health.nd.gov/covidvaccinelocator.

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Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.