Grand Forks Simplot plant declines request for mass coronavirus testing
GRAND FORKS — The major target for coronavirus testing in Grand Forks Thursday, April 23, was, for the most part, a no-show.
The J.R. Simplot Company potato processing plant in Grand Forks closed for two weeks Thursday for a deep clean that was originally scheduled for next month. However, the cleaning got moved up after two independent contractors with access to the plant tested positive for COVID-19.
The city wanted to see if there could be more cases inside, but that idea did not go as planned.
Helene Logbo was one of the more than 700 people tested for the coronavirus at the Alerus Center Thursday. She works at LM Wind, where more than 70 of the company's 900 employees have tested positive.
"It's better for people to come check themselves so they can take more precautions," she said.
People not tested during last week's mass testing of LM Wind Power employees and their families and friends were invited to take part in this latest test along with all first responders in the city.
Even though there are no known cases of the coronavirus among Simplot workers, the city wanted to test a large sample of the close to 400 employees to avoid an outbreak similar to the one at LM Wind. However, Simplot declined the tests.
"That seems to be the bugaboo around the country — those large factories with a large number of employees," said city of Grand Forks spokesman John Bernstrom. "It's disappointing (that they didn't participate), but you go about your day; they have that choice."
A company spokesman said Simplot supports greater testing efforts, but it was not feasible to participate because they were busy shutting down.
"We were only made aware of the event yesterday and were not able to communicate to employees," the spokesman said. "We also know that the availability of testing may be limited, and would prefer this immediate testing be made available to the broader community".
The city admits to the short notice, saying plans by the city and state health department were not finalized until late Wednesday afternoon.
Due to media reports about the testing, a number of Simplot employees did show up and get tested. With hundreds of extra tests, the city then opened up testing to all LM employees, like Helene Logbo, who said she will be nervous for the next two or three days as she waits to hear the results.