Task force to investigate COVID-19 hotspot in Fargo area

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Wednesday he’s calling in reinforcements to investigate the spread of the coronavirus in Cass County and Fargo metropolitan area, the state’s COVID-19 hotspot where five deaths were reported in the last day.

A Red River Valley task force with local leaders and others will concentrate on beefing up testing efforts, particularly in long-term care facilities, Burgum said. About 8,000 tests have been completed in Cass County, which includes more than 160,000 people in Fargo and West Fargo. Nearly 39,000 people have been tested statewide.

“We’re taking a deeper look at this,” said Burgum, adding that state and local resources will be dedicated to testing, contact tracing, deep cleaning and other prevention efforts. “We need to arrest the spread.”

Cass County continues to post the highest percentage of positive tests in the state at an average positive rate of 9.6 percent for the last 14 days, significantly higher than the statewide rate of 2.8 percent, Burgum said.

As part of what the governor called a “shift” in strategies, officials are setting up daily testing at Family HealthCare in downtown Fargo, which caters to low-income and homeless residents and is close to the city’s public transportation center. The city has held a couple of drive-thru testing efforts at the Fargodome, which may not have been accessible to people without vehicles and others, Burgum said.

Asked why he waited until Wednesday to assemble the task force, Burgum said the testing and contact tracing capabilities were not previously available and “we did not know the things that we know now.” He added that the rate was higher in the western part of the state at the start of the pandemic.

A death in Grand Forks County was also included in Wednesday’s reports, for a single-day high statewide of six deaths from COVID-19. All of the victims had underlying health conditions, health officials said. There has been a total of 31 deaths in the state since late March.

Officials said Wednesday that 57 additional people have tested positive for the virus, bringing the state’s total to 1,323 cases. Thirty-two people were hospitalized Wednesday in North Dakota, which was one more from Tuesday.

State Schools Superintendent Kirsten Baesler announced Wednesday that local school districts will be allowed to decide on whether they want to hold in-person high school graduation ceremonies. The state will permit ceremonies at schools but will require proper social distancing, cleaning and other safety precautions, she said.

In addition, a combined graduation ceremony for North Dakota’s 181 high schools will be broadcast live on May 30. Baesler said it will provide a “special opportunity to honor and celebrate seniors” who have been forced to sacrifice because of the coronavirus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.