More coronavirus testing planned as college students return

July 22, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota plans increased statewide testing for the coronavirus in the days leading up the reopening of the state’s 11 colleges and universities this fall, officials said Wednesday.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he was optimistic face-to-face and online classes could resume on the planned Aug. 24 school start.

“We’re confident we can move forward in about a month,” Hagerott said during Gov. Doug Burgum’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

Hagerott’s comments came as the number of deaths in the state approached triple-digits and the number new cases and hospitalizations was the highest since the pandemic began.

North Dakota’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by two to 96 as of Wednesday, while 160 new confirmed cases raised the statewide total to 5,367. Burgum said the cases reported Wednesday also included some since Monday due to reporting problems.

The state Board of Higher Education has scheduled a meeting Thursday to discuss new testing policies and other precautions, such as requiring masks, Hagerott said.

“The strategy is still unfolding,” he said.

Joshua Wynne, the state’s chief health strategist recently appointed by Burgum, said students will be returning to classes from well beyond North Dakota’s boarders. He asked that students participate in the testing that he called a “relatively easy process.”

University system spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said in an interview that all colleges and universities already have indicated they would reopen this fall, with precautions.

“Each campus is discussing ways to implement precautionary measures that are specific to their campus,” she said.

The university system includes about 45,000 students, she said.

Hagerott said the goal is “try to test as many (students) as possible on initial arrival.” But he said it would not be practical to test daily.

Burgum last week said K-12 schools may reopen this fall for face-to-face learning if districts approve and consult with local health officials. School districts also must prepare online learning plans in addition to classroom instruction and a “hybrid” of the two, he said.