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North Dakota again urges COVID-19 vaccination as US identifies first omicron variant case

"Even though we don't fully understand what omicron may bring, we do understand that being vaccinated helps to protect people, and it's likely that it's going to provide some protection against omicron as well," Department of Health Disease Control Chief Kirby Kruger said on Wednesday.

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A coronavirus graphic. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Wednesday, Dec. 1, once again urged unvaccinated residents to receive the shot and for those eligible to seek a booster dose as scientists continue to discover cases of the omicron variant in other countries.

Last week, the World Health Organization classified the omicron coronavirus variant, a strain of the virus that has dozens of mutations, as a "variant of concern." Since then, more than 20 countries, now including the United States, have found cases of the omicron variant.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the first U.S. case of the omicron variant was found in California. The person was a fully vaccinated traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The CDC said the person has mild symptoms, is self-quarantining and all close contacts have tested negative.

The high number of mutations in the omicron variant's spike protein indicates it could be more transmissible; however, scientists worldwide are working to understand its transmissibility and the effectiveness of the available COVID-19 vaccinations against the mutated variant.

The North Dakota Department of Health is encouraging residents to get vaccinated or receive a booster dose in light of global concern surrounding the new strain.

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"Even though we don't fully understand what omicron may bring, we do understand that being vaccinated helps to protect people, and it's likely that it's going to provide some protection against omicron as well," Department of Health Disease Control Chief Kirby Kruger said on Wednesday.

Kruger said that if people are "motivated" by the new variant, they should get vaccinated.

North Dakota is surveilling its positive COVID-19 PCR tests for the omicron variant and other strains as well. Kruger said the state lab randomly selects up to about 480 positive tests per week for genomic sequencing, which can tell staff members whether a positive test come from a variant, including the omicron variant.

The state selects about 5% to 10% of tests for genomic sequencing each week, which Kruger said the Department of Health believes is a "fairly good sample" of the state's positive tests.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance for booster doses in light of the emergence of the omicron variant. People who are 18 and older "should" get a booster dose, according to the CDC, which is an update from the agency's previous guidance that people in that age group "may" get a booster.

The CDC previously recommended a booster dose for people ages 50 and older, but now it urges residents 18 and up to receive an additional dose to bolster immunity.

People should receive a booster at least six months after completing the initial Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series and two months after a dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot, according to the CDC.

The North Dakota Department of Health also reported another increase in active COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths on Wednesday.

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Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES REPORTED WEDNESDAY, DEC. 1: 691
  • ACTIVE CASES: 3,180
  • DAILY POSITIVITY RATE: 8.01%
  • TOTAL KNOWN CASES THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 162,976
  • TOTAL RECOVERED THROUGHOUT PANDEMIC: 157,898

Cass County, which encompasses Fargo, had the most known active cases on Tuesday with 874 cases. Burleigh County, which includes Bismarck, had 401 active cases, and Grand Forks County had 244 cases.
The state's 14-day rolling average positivity rate was 7.57% as of Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 165

  • DEATHS: 6

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 1,898

Wednesday's six additional reported COVID-19 deaths included three residents of Cass County and one each from Pierce, Barnes and Dickey County.
Among the North Dakotans who have been hospitalized this week due to COVID-19, more than 77% were not fully vaccinated.

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 390,086 (58.3% of population ages 12 and up)

  • FULL VACCINE COVERAGE: 368,750 (55% of population ages 12 and up)

  • BOOSTER DOSES ADMINISTERED: 116,037

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 Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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"We see through the data that when we have a high vaccination rate in facilities, absolutely we have less infection there," said North Dakota Long Term Care Association President Shelly Peterson. "It really does work. It really does make a difference."
They say the surging pandemic is stressing health systems by not only sending more people to the hospital, but also by taking staff away who are either sick with COVID-19, recovering, or have to stay home as caregivers because the virus has closed child care centers.
For the second day in a row, North Dakota reported more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases, a single-day threshold it had not met at any point during the pandemic prior to this week. Virus hospitalizations have climbed from 122 in the first week of January to 170 on Thursday.
The seven-day rolling average positive test rate reached 23.7%.