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Grand Forks COVID gauge rises to ‘high risk’ level

Before reaching the yellow level on March 17, the dashboard remained in the low risk level for three weeks.

The elevation of the risk level comes after positive cases of the coronavirus trended up over the last week. The North Dakota Department of Health reported 23 new cases in Grand Forks County on Friday, April 9. The seven-day sum of new cases in the county stands at 126, and the percentage of positive tests increased to 6.9%, from 5.5% on Thursday. Including Friday’s reported cases, the total number of cases in Grand Forks stands at 183. No new deaths were reported in Grand Forks, but the Department of Health listed two deaths on Friday, one in Ward County, where Minot is located, and one in Renville County, which lies north of Ward.

County Health Officer Dr. Joel Walz said he isn’t exactly sure how to account for the recent rise in cases. People returning from traveling could be one source, or spread could be happening among people in age groups more likely to spend time in public places.

A color-coded “heat map,” used by health officials to track the virus by age groups, indicates people between 30-39 are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than other groups. In that group, 41.1 people per 100,000 have contracted the illness. For people in the 40-49 age group, that number stands at 36 people per 100,000. The rate for the 20-29 age group stands at 28.7 people per 100,000.

“Those would be the groups that probably aren’t immunized and those are groups that probably tend to be out in the community quite a bit, so it kind of fits a bit here to profile that sector,” Walz said.

The rate of infection for people in the 10-19 age group is also trending higher, at 30 people per 100,000. Walz said the rise of cases in younger people is “concerning,” and is part of a national trend.

When it comes to positive cases in age groups over 60, the numbers drop off, due to more people having been vaccinated, according to Michael Dulitz, who is handling COVID-19 data analysis for the county.

Walz said he is not entertaining another mask mandate for Grand Forks County, but he is continuing to assess trends in the virus. Previously, masks were required in public spaces from Jan. 15 to March 8. People, he said, should continue to take measures to protect themselves from the virus, by wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequently washing their hands.

“The mask order was rescinded, (yet) the recommendation to continue to do masking and to do all the important mitigation strategies has never gone away,” Walz said.

According to Dulitz, testing in the county remains robust, but the actual number of tests has decreased, likely due to more people becoming vaccinated. People, Dulitz said, are starting to get tested when they are showing symptoms, as opposed to routine testing. As of Wednesday, 25.7%, or 17,829 people, have been fully vaccinated in Grand Forks County. The Public Health Department’s goal is to have 60% of the eligible population receive the vaccine.

While coronavirus numbers in the county have recently trended up, they are still well below the peak of more than 1,000 cases in early November.

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