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Active COVID-19 cases continue falling as vaccine is rolled out

Through Wednesday, Dec. 30, the number of active COVID-19 cases has continued to fall, dropping to 1,889 active cases and 303 new confirmed cases of the disease.

That’s down from Nov. 13’s high of more than 10,200 active cases. Similarly, the 14-day average positive test rate has fallen from 16% in mid November to 4.5% on Wednesday. Since the state started tracking COVID-19 there have been 92,495 confirmed cases of the disease.

Of those, 89,314 have recovered, 1,292 have died and there are 1,889 active cases.

Locally, there have been 3,955 cases in Williams County, 1,029 in McKenzie County and 137 in Divide County. There have been 31 deaths in Williams, 11 in McKenzie and two in Divide.

As of Wednesday, there were 94 people hospitalized in North Dakota because of complications from COVID-19, with 16 in intensive care. The current numbers is down from the peak of 337 in November.

There are a total of about 2,100 staffed beds available statewide and about 14% of those beds are currently open.

Overall, 3,552 people have been hospitalized this year because of COVID-19 and 524 were in the ICU.

Of the 94 currently hospitalized, 653 are 60 or older — 20 in their 60s, 22 in their 70s and 21 80 or older. There are also 16 people in their 50s hospitalized, five each in their 30s and 40s, three in their 20s, one teen and one infant currently hospitalized.

Out of the 1,292 deaths, 1,070 death certificates list COVID-19 as the primary cause and 212 list another primary cause.

The vast majority of deaths have been of people older than 80, with 835 of the state’s deaths coming from that demographic. There were 233 deaths from people in their 70s and 136 in their 60s. There has been only one death of people ages 15 to 17, two of people in their 20s, seven of people in their 30s, 21 of people in their 40s and 57 from people in their 50s.

The vaccine rollout continues statewide, with more than 13,000 health care workers and long-term care facility residents vaccinated statewide.

The North Dakota Department of Health is warning people to be aware after two suspected allergic reactions to the Moderna vaccine were reported.

Neither people had a history of allergic reactions and the symptoms were caught in the 15-minute observation period the CDC recommends. Neither needed to be hospitalized.

“These allergic reactions are taken very seriously. While they are rare, North Dakota health care providers are prepared to handle these types of events,” said Molly Howell, NDDoH Immunization Director. “COVID hospitalizations and deaths continue to be a far greater risk for North Dakotans, with about 1 in 600 North Dakotans having died with COVID-19 and 1 in 250 being hospitalized. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19.”

The NDDoH has been in close contact with the CDC and the reactions were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System . VAERS is a national vaccine safety surveillance program run by CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. The CDC follows up on all severe events to better understand and determine the potential causes and safety risk.

Anaphylaxis following vaccines is rare, occurring at a rate of approximately one per million doses for other types of vaccines. Anyone who receives COVID-19 vaccine is recommended to be monitored for 15 minutes after vaccination; 30 minutes for those with a prior history of anaphylaxis. Those who have a known allergy to a component of COVID-19 vaccine should not receive the vaccine. Earlier this month at the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting, it was reported that CDC had received six case reports of anaphylaxis after COVID-19 vaccination.

Spring Lake Park rings in 2021 early with New Year's Eve Eve celebration
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Fireworks lit up the sky over Spring Lake Park as hundreds of visitors crowded into the park to cheer on the end of 2020.

More than 200 cars filed in to the Park on Dec 30 for the Park’s New Year’s Eve Eve Party, the final activity night of the Holiday Lights Drive. Terry Gaudreau with TNT Fireworks supplied the entertainment, wowing the crowd with around 30 minutes worth of high-flying, explosive fun. As Christmas music played, Gaudreau and his team put on a dazzling display, which was greeted by applauses, cheers and the honking of cars horns from all corners of the park.

The night was a double success, as a portion of the proceeds went to benefit Bras For a Cause.

Health officials fear pandemic-related suicide spike among Native youth
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WOLF POINT, Mont. — Fallen pine cones covered 16-year-old Leslie Keiser’s fresh grave at the edge of Wolf Point, a small community on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation on the eastern Montana plains.

Leslie, whose father is a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, is one of at least two teenagers on the reservation who died by suicide this summer. A third teen’s death is under investigation, authorities said.

Leslie’s mother, Natalie Keiser, was standing beside the grave recently when she received a text with a photo of the headstone she had ordered.

She looked at her phone and then back at the grave of the girl who took her own life in September.

“I wish she would have reached out and let us know what was wrong,” she said.

In a typical year, Native American youth die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of their white peers in the U.S. Mental health experts worry that the isolation and shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could make things worse.

“It has put a really heavy spirit on them, being isolated and depressed and at home with nothing to do,” said Carrie Manning, a project coordinator at the Fort Peck Tribes’ Spotted Bull Recovery Resource Center.

It’s not clear what connection the pandemic has to the youth suicides on the Fort Peck reservation. Leslie had attempted suicide once before several years ago, but she had been in counseling and seemed to be feeling better, her mother said.

Keiser noted that Leslie’s therapist canceled her counseling sessions before the pandemic hit.

“Probably with the virus it would have been discontinued anyway,” Keiser said. “It seems like things that were important were kind of set to the wayside.”

Tribal members typically lean on one another in times of crisis, but this time is different. The reservation is a COVID hot spot. In remote Roosevelt County, which encompasses most of the reservation, more than 10% of the population has been infected with the coronavirus. The resulting social distancing has led tribal officials to worry the community will fail to see warning signs among at-risk youth.

So tribal officials are focusing their suicide prevention efforts on finding ways to help those kids remotely.

“Our people have been through hardships and they’re still here, and they’ll still be here after this one as well,” said Don Wetzel, tribal liaison for the Montana Office of Public Instruction and a member of the Blackfeet Nation. “I think if you want to look at resiliency in this country, you look at our Native Americans.”

Poverty, high rates of substance abuse, limited health care and crowded households elevate both physical and mental health risks for residents of reservations.

“It’s those conditions where things like suicide and pandemics like COVID are able to just decimate tribal people,” said Teresa Brockie, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the White Clay Nation from Fort Belknap, Montana.

Montana has seen 231 suicides this year, with the highest rates occurring in rural counties. Those numbers aren’t much different from a typical year, said Karl Rosston, suicide prevention coordinator for the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services. The state has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country each year for decades.

As physical distancing drags on, fatality numbers climb and the economic impacts of the pandemic start to take hold of families, Rosston said, and he expected to see more suicide attempts in December and January.

“We’re hoping we’re wrong in this, of course,” he said.

For rural teenagers, in particular, the isolation caused by school closures and curtailed or canceled sports seasons can tax their mental health.

“Peers are a huge factor for kids. If they’re cut off, they’re more at risk,” Rosston said.

Furthermore, teen suicides tend to cluster, especially in rural areas. Every suicide triples the risk that a surviving loved one will follow suit, Rosston said.

On average, every person who dies by suicide has six survivors. “When talking about small tribal communities, that jumps to 25 to 30,” he said.

Maria Vega, a 22-year-old member of the Fort Peck Tribes, knows this kind of contagious grief. In 2015, after finding the body of a close friend who had died by suicide, Vega attempted suicide as well. She is now a youth representative for a state-run suicide prevention committee that organizes conferences and other events for young people.

Vega is a nursing student who lives six hours away from her family, making it difficult to travel home. She contracted COVID-19 in October and was forced to isolate, increasing her sense of removal from family. While isolated, Vega was able to attend therapy sessions through a telehealth system set up by her university.

“I really do think therapy is something that would help people while they’re alone,” she said.

But Vega points out that this is not an option for many people on rural reservations who don’t have computers or reliable internet access. The therapists who offer telehealth services have long waitlists.

Other prevention programs are having difficulties operating during the pandemic. Brockie, who studies health delivery in disadvantaged populations, has twice had to delay the launch of an experimental training program for Native parents of young children. She hopes the program will lower the risk of substance abuse and suicide by teaching resiliency and parenting skills.

At Fort Peck, the reservation’s mental health center has had to scale down its youth events that teach leadership skills and traditional practices like horseback riding and archery, as well as workshops on topics like coping with grief. The events, which Manning said usually draw 200 people or more, are intended to take teenagers’ minds away from depression and allow them to have conversations about suicide, a taboo topic in many Native cultures. The few events that can go forward are limited now to a handful of people at a time.

Tribes, rural states and other organizations running youth suicide intervention and prevention initiatives are struggling to sustain the same level of services. Using money from the federal CARES Act and other sources, Montana’s Office of Public Instruction ramped up online prevention training for teachers, while Rosston’s office has beefed up counseling resources people can access by phone.

On the national level, the Center for Native American Youth in Washington, D.C., hosts biweekly webinars for young people to talk about their hopes and concerns. Executive Director Nikki Pitre said that on average around 10,000 young people log in each week. In the CARES Act, the federal government allocated $425 million for mental health programs, $15 million of which was set aside for Native health organizations.

Pitre hopes the pandemic will bring attention to the historical inequities that led to lack of health care and resources on reservations, and how they enable the twin epidemics of COVID-19 and suicide.

“This pandemic has really opened up those wounds,” she said. “We’re clinging even more to the resiliency of culture.”

In Wolf Point, Natalie Keiser experienced that resiliency and support firsthand. The Fort Peck community has come together to pay for Leslie’s funeral.

“That’s a miracle in itself,” she said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

James Memorial hosts North Dakota Juried Student Art Show, featuring local artists

The North Dakota Juried Student Art show is making a stop in Williston, featuring winning art from local students.

The annual show is a traveling exhibit of the state’s award winning artwork from schools across North Dakota. Judges studied the 408 different submitted pieces before finally choosing 116 as the award-winning works of art. From those pieces, 16 were chosen to adorn the walls of North Dakota’s elected officials, with three going to Gov. Doug Burgum’s offices, four going to Sen. Kevin Cramer’s offices, four going to Sen. John Hoeven’s offices and five going to Rep. Kelly Armstrong’s offices. Jurors for this year’s show were former Executive Director of the Taube Museum Nancy Walter, and James Memorial Art Center Vice President Deana Novak.

The traveling show features artwork from students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and is sponsored by the Taube Museum of Art in Minot with support from the North Dakota Council of the Arts.

After the pieces are juried, they become a traveling exhibit for the following year, making their way across the state. The show began it’s journey in April, and will be featured at the James Memorial throughout January. Seven students from Williston were chosen to have their work travel as part of the exhibit.

“The James is once again excited to host this fantastic student show,” Novak told the Williston Herald. “I was honored to judge this amazing group of work from the talented K12 students from around the state. Judging is blind, so we didn’t know anything besides the artist’s grade level, and I was thrilled to learn that seven talented local artists from across several grade levels were picked as traveling winners! The artistic talent of these students is amazing!”

The James has always enjoyed showing this show to encourage the students to continue on their artistic journey. Please wear a mask and join us in congratulating the Williston artists and see the other amazing talent from around the state at a reception Friday January 8th from 7-8:30.

Novak added that the James has always enjoyed host the juried show as a way to encourage students to continue on their artistic journey. Getting students involved in art early on helps to encourage them to appreciate art, she added, and will hopefully inspire them to continue being artistic.

Williston’s traveling artists for 2020-2021 are Aeris Gerard, Bakken Elementary; Emy Canerdy-Kalmik, ASB Innovation Academy; Daniel Crosby, Williston Trinity Christian School; Aison Boerschig, Bakken Elementary; Maguire Neumann, Williston Middle School; Theodora Aliffia, Williston Middle School and Kat Canerdy-Kalmik, ASB Innovation Elementary.

The James Memorial Art Center will hold an artist reception on Friday, Jan. 8 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Visitors are asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing when visiting the gallery. The James is located at 621 First Avenue West in Williston. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge for gallery exhibits.

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Classes resume Jan. 11 at Williston State College
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Athletes return to campus at Williston State College this week and the spring semester begins Jan. 11.

In a message sent Thursday, Dec. 31, WSC President John Miller wrote that the school strongly encourages all faculty, staff, and students to be tested for COVID-19 prior to their return to campus for the spring semester.

Weekly community testing sponsored by the Upper Missouri District Health Unit will continue with the first testing event of the new year scheduled for Monday, Jan. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m.

“Testing, along with proper mask use, hand sanitation, social distancing, curtailing travel, and limiting who you are around are still the best tools available to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Miller wrote. “We all await widespread distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine to North Dakota in the coming months, but for now we need to remain vigilant and smart about where we go, what we do, and how we act.”

For more information about WSC’s COVID precautions, visit https://www.willistonstate.edu/students/Student-Resources/COVID-19/