Burgum bumps risk levels for several North Dakota counties

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum raised the coronavirus risk level Thursday in several North Dakota counties but did not order restrictions, even as the number of hospitalizations and new infections set daily highs and as the state reels from its deadliest month since the pandemic began.

Burgum moved eight counties from moderate to high risk under the state’s five-level plan to set coronavirus management protocols for everything from businesses to family gatherings. That brings to 24 the number of North Dakota’s 53 counties now deemed high risk. The guidance for high-risk counties includes limiting businesses occupancy to 25% with a cap of 50 people and encouraging businesses to require masks. The guidelines are only recommendations and not enforced.

Burgum raised the alert level to high for Grand Forks, Mercer, LaMoure, Ramsey, Richland, Towner, Walsh and Ward counties. He also raised the risk levels for eight counties from low to moderate risk. They are Adams, Hettinger, Kidder, Pembina, Rolette, Stutsman, Traill and Wells counties.


Burgum has avoided statewide mandates such as mask-wearing and business occupancies, instead stressing a personal responsibility message, a theme he renewed Thursday at his weekly coronavirus update at the state Capitol. He has said the five-level color-coded guidelines are to be used by local leaders “as a baseline for their own policies.”

City leaders in many communities, including Fargo, Bismarck and Minot, have moved to require face coverings in most settings, though the directives are not enforced.

Burgum said more than half of the state’s population are living in areas that have some sort of directive to wear masks.

“We have seen communities coming together. We’re seeing some progress,” the Republican governor said.

There are “signs of optimism — I wouldn’t say we’ve turned the corner yet,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, the North Dakota Department of Health reported six hospitalizations in the last day due to the coronavirus, increasing the total number of patients in medical facilities to a record 184.

North Dakota’s death toll from COVID-19 hit 499 on Thursday, with health officials reporting an additional 11 deaths. October has been the deadliest month to date from the coronavirus, accounting for 228 of the deaths recorded since the pandemic began.

Health officials reported a record 1,222 new infections from the virus on Thursday, and a daily positivity rate of 15.6%.

The COVID Tracking Project reported that North Dakota has had more than 1,442 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which leads the nation. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by more than 40% in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

There were 240 available inpatient beds plus 23 intensive care unit beds in North Dakota, according to state data.

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South Dakota sees record virus hospitalizations, cases

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in South Dakota reached new heights for the fourth straight day on Wednesday.

The number of daily new cases also set a record, with 1,270 people testing positive for the virus. The virus has surged in the state and region, sending South Dakota to the nation’s second-worst ranking in new cases per capita over the last two weeks. Johns Hopkins researchers report that one out of roughly every 77 people in the state has tested positive in the last two weeks.

The wave of cases has resulted in 412 people who are currently hospitalized with the virus. Health officials also reported nine new deaths. October has become the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with 189 deaths so far.


The outbreak has been particularly severe in the state’s prisons, where one out of roughly every three people incarcerated statewide has an active coronavirus infection.

Gov. Kristi Noem has made it clear she will not issue any requirements to wear masks in public. She has cast her approach to the pandemic — foregoing government restrictions to keep economic activity humming — as an example of Republican leadership. She spent the day at several Trump campaign events in Maine and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, South Dakota health officials attempted to offer some hope to the state’s virus outlook, saying they will be ready by the middle of next month to distribute coronavirus vaccinations. But it is not clear when coronavirus vaccinations will receive regulatory approval and actually arrive in the state.

Health experts are hoping that several candidates for vaccines could be ready for distribution by year’s end, maybe sooner. President Donald Trump has pushed for a faster timeline.

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said she is following federal instructions to have a vaccine distribution system in place by Nov. 15.

“If the vaccine shows up at our doorstep on that day, it will be getting out to folks immediately,” she said.

South Dakota’s plan prioritizes health care workers and people who are vulnerable to the virus before vaccines are made widely available to the public.

The Food and Drug Administration has pledged that any vaccine it approves will meet clear standards for its safety and effectiveness.

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South Dakota medical groups promote masks, countering Noem

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s largest medical organizations on Tuesday launched a joint effort to promote mask-wearing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the state suffers through one of the nation’s worst outbreaks, a move that countered Gov. Kristi Noem’s position of casting doubt on the efficacy of wearing face coverings in public.

As the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have multiplied in recent weeks, the Republican governor has tried to downplay the severity of the virus, highlighting that most people don’t die from COVID-19. Noem, who has staked out a reputation for keeping her state free from federal government mandates to stem the virus’ spread, has repeatedly countered the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to wear face coverings in public.

Shortly after the Department of Health reported that the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 broke records for the third straight day on Tuesday, people who represent doctors, nurses, hospitals, school administrators and businesses huddled to promote mask-wearing, social distancing and handwashing. They warned the state’s hospitals could face a tipping point in their ability to care for COVID-19 patients.

“Masking is a simple act that each one of us can participate in and it can save lives,” said Dr. Benjamin Aaker, the president of the South Dakota State Medical Association. “If you mask, that life could be your mother, father, your friend, or even your own.”

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said the governor does not oppose all mask-wearing, but is trying to promote a “nuanced” approach to masks. She has said it is appropriate to wear masks around people with symptoms of COVID-19 or in hospitals. But she has not encouraged people to wear face coverings in public, as recommended by the CDC.


October has already become the state’s deadliest during the pandemic, with 152 people dying. Health officials have tallied 375 total deaths from COVID-19.

The groups calling for mask-wearing detailed the upheaval caused by virus infections — from school administrators struggling to conduct contract tracing to businesses worried about the economic impacts of widespread outbreaks.

The state’s prisons have seen the greatest surge in cases in recent weeks. Roughly one out of every three inmates statewide have an active infection.

The state has reported the nation’s second-highest number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. There were 1,226 new cases per 100,000 people, meaning that one in roughly every 82 people tested positive. The Department of Health reported 989 new cases on Tuesday.

The rise in hospitalizations has forced the state’s two largest hospital systems — Sanford Health and Avera Health — to alter the logistics of some elective procedures to free up space for the influx of COVID-19 patients.

There were 395 people hospitalized by COVID-19 statewide, according to the Department of Health. About 34% of general-care hospital beds and 38% of Intensive Care Units statewide remained available on Tuesday.

Health care providers will hit an unmanageable load of

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Noem says South Dakota is doing ‘good’ as virus surges

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem has insisted South Dakota is excelling in its handling of the pandemic, even though the state surpassed 9,000 active coronavirus cases on Thursday and matched an all-time high for deaths reported in a day.

The state ranks second in the country in new infections per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There were about 1,036 new cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota, meaning that about one in every 97 people in the state has tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks. Health officials on Thursday also reported an all-time high of 973 new cases.

But the Republican governor has used her refusal to issue mandates to vault to nationwide relevance among conservatives. She told Fox News on Wednesday night: “We’re doing really good in South Dakota. We’re managing COVID-19, but also our economy is thriving.”

Health officials reported Thursday that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a record high with 355 in hospitals, including 75 in Intensive Care Units. The state matched its record of 14 deaths in a day.

Noem has said COVID-19 hospitalizations account for a relatively small percentage of total hospital capacity and that hospitals are still handling an influx of patients for other health issues. Currently, 35% of general-care hospital beds and 36% of Intensive Care Units remain open, according to the Department of Health.


However, both of the state’s largest hospital systems have altered the logistics of some elective procedures to free up space and staff to handle the virus surge. Without a statewide mask mandate in place, the hospital systems have also urged people to wear masks when they are around people outside of their households.

The hospital systems got support on that message from Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, who earlier this week put it bluntly: “Wear a dang mask.”

But Noem has made it clear she will not institute a mask requirement and doubts the usefulness of the recommendation from the nation’s top health experts that widespread masking helps prevent infections from spreading.

In an opinion article published Wednesday, the governor pointed to doctors who say it is not clear how effective masks are in preventing infections. She said places with mask mandates have still seen case growth, but conceded that masks are “appropriate” in hospitals or when caring for someone with COVID-19 symptoms.

Noem’s opinion piece also included a link to an article on masks from a conservative medical group called Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The group has a history of staking out unorthodox positions on medical issues, including calling mass vaccinations “equivalent to human experimentation” and opposing Medicare, the government-funded health insurance for older people.

More recently, the group has s poken out against lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus and encouraged treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that President Donald Trump pushed before the Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency-use authorization. Noem also

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North Dakota leads nation in per capita cases

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota leads the nation with 978 new cases of coronavirus per capita in the last two weeks.

That’s according to the COVID Tracking project, which reports cases per 100,000 people. Health officials confirmed 877 new cases and 18 more deaths on Friday.

The surge in cases and deaths statewide resulted in Republican Gov. Doug Burgum raising the coronavirus risk level in several North Dakota counties this week. However, he issued no mandated restrictions and mask use is voluntary.

The deaths reported Friday include 10 women and eight men, all in their 60s or older. All had underlying health conditions.


North Dakota, with a population of fewer than 800,000, has 30,000 confirmed cases and 388 deaths.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— France records 30,000 virus cases, highest single-day rise

— WHO study finds remdesivir didn’t help COVID-19 patients

— U.S. testing 3 drugs to try to tamp down coronavirus

— Coronavirus cases are rising in key U.S. presidential battleground states ahead of Election Day.

— White House puts political operatives at CDC to try to control virus information

— Thousands arrive in Hawaii on first day pre-travel testing allowing no quarantine

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— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MADRID — Spain’s health ministry has reported 15,186 new infections for the coronavirus.

The ministry says 6,591 cases were diagnosed in the last 24 hours. The remainder of the new cases were diagnosed in recent days but not reported until Friday.

Spain leads Europe with 936560 confirmed cases. With 222 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, Spain’s total has reached 33,775.

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DENVER — Denver’s mayor says the city will enforce stricter mask mandates and limits on group gatherings.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock says the mask mandate will include outdoor settings with exceptions for individuals who are outside alone or those with people in their households. Denver is also limiting the number of non-related people gathering from 10 to five through Nov. 16.

Colorado’s Department of Public Health Executive Director Bob McDonald says enforcement will include issuing summons to appear in court. Hancock emphasized the importance of personal responsibility to keep others safe and help protect the economy.

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GENEVA — A large study led by the World Health Organization suggests that the antiviral drug remdesivir didn’t help hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

That’s in contrast to an earlier study that made the medicine a standard of care in the United States and many other countries. The results announced Friday don’t negate the previous ones, and the WHO study wasn’t as rigorous as the earlier one led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

But they add to concerns about how much value the pricey drug gives since none of the studies have found it can improve survival. Remdesivir is among the treatments U.S. President Donald Trump received when he was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Oct. 1.

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris

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South Dakota Department Of Health

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