FARGO — The surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus could peak in North Dakota within about three weeks, according to an ensemble forecast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiles multiple model projections into an ensemble forecast that shows the surge in North Dakota continuing to climb over the next three weeks, then dipping by the fourth week.
North Dakota is experiencing 2,985 weekly COVID-19 cases, a number that will increase to 3,464 in three weeks, then recede to 3,137 in four weeks, according to the CDC’s ensemble forecast on Monday, Sept. 20.
Niall Klyn, a data scientist at Essentia Health, said forecast models have not been very accurate in predicting the peak of COVID-19 surges but are useful in examining trends to guide hospital planning.
“I would not put much confidence, personally, in that date,” he said on Monday, Sept. 20, referring to any predictions of a peak date.
Trends suggest the current surge in cases will peak between the number of cases experienced last fall and this spring, Klyn said. During last fall’s peak, before vaccines were available, North Dakota had 10,418 cases on Nov. 13.
As of Tuesday, North Dakota had 3,104 active cases, according to state figures.
A forecast by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that North Dakota’s COVID-19 cases should peak around Oct. 21, a prediction roughly in line with the CDC’s ensemble forecast.
Daily cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota will continue to climb until peaking at about 1,534 cases under the most likely scenario predicted by the University of Washington’s model.
That is the number of new daily infections, including those that haven’t been confirmed by testing.
The peak in deaths will lag behind, topping at an average of seven deaths per day around Nov. 16, the model projects. That mortality level is far below deaths in North Dakota last fall, before vaccines became available.
Predictions by the Mayo Clinic, which only look ahead 14 days, project much lower daily infection numbers, rising to 579, or a rate of 76 per 100,000 people, by Sept. 30, then dipping to 563, or 62 per 100,000, by Oct. 2.
Sanford Health disclosed last week that it expected COVID-19 cases to peak in about two or three weeks and expects patients admitted with COVID-19 could top out between 80 and 90, below the record 116 patients last November but still a level of great concern given the pressure on hospitals.
Unlike last fall’s surge, hospitals already are full with patients experiencing other illnesses, leaving few staffed beds available for patients sick with COVID-19. Sanford has taken a range of steps, including reducing elective surgeries by 30%, to keep beds open.
As of Sunday, Fargo hospitals had 30 available staffed beds, including six adult intensive care unit beds and four pediatric intensive care unit beds.
“We have a lot of delayed care,” Klyn said, referring to the high hospital admissions that are overlapping with the surge in COVID-19 cases. “So even the slightly lower peak is problematic, to be sure.”
As of Tuesday, North Dakota reported 1,593 people have died with COVID-19. The University of Washington forecast predicts North Dakota will report 2,064 deaths by Jan. 1, increasing from an average of about 1.5 per day to seven per day, peaking around Nov. 16.
The best way to avoid worst-case scenarios, Klyn said, echoing the advice of medical and public health experts, is to get vaccinated, wear masks in public indoor settings and engage in social distancing when possible.
Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases should remain relatively stable, hovering around 5,000 to 5,200 daily cases, according to the University of Washington forecast. Minnesota’s reported COVID-19 deaths could reach 9,193 by Jan. 1, the forecast predicts. The state reported 8,011 deaths connected to COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
The CDC’s ensemble forecast suggests Minnesota appears close to reaching its peak and shows predicted cases declining.