In an effort to not overrun county and state services, UND has hired more people to carry out contact tracing for COVID-19 cases.

UND President Andrew Armacost said the state gave UND the dollars to be able to hire 29 new contact tracers to work with the university. They started this week and join another two dozen tracers in the UND medical school to tackle making calls related to positive COVID-19 cases.

“Initially we thought that the state and the county might have the resources to pull that off, but it became quickly apparent that as infection levels rose, not just on campus but in Grand Forks County, that those contact tracers would be quickly overrun,” Armacost said during a Herald forum held Tuesday.

Armacost has said contact tracing is a key part of managing the spread of the virus on campus and within the community. Thus far, UND's contact tracing efforts have been successful; UND’s active cases have generally been lower in recent days compared to earlier this month, when cases were around 300.

The university’s COVID real-time dashboard showed 60 active positive cases as of 1 p.m. Friday, including 55 students, one faculty member and four staff members.

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There were 145 students and employees in isolation or quarantine as of Friday afternoon, including 38 in quarantine and 18 in isolation in UND-purchased hotel rooms.

Contact tracing was also a point of discussion during a recent interim legislative meeting.

Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said during a Higher Education Committee that she had heard national information that contact tracing was becoming especially challenging among student populations because students are worried about the consequences if they are found to have been attending a party or large gathering.

Vern Dosch, who heads up contact tracing in North Dakota, said during the meeting that many people in North Dakota have been willing to provide their close contacts and understand the repercussions of not participating in contact tracing. However, he noted that a growing number of people are declining to give their close contact information.

“Some of that may be because they don't want to admit that they're a part of a team. Some of it, they don't want to admit that they were at a particular location, maybe it was a party, maybe it was a frat,” he said. “That's a bit disconcerting to us. Short of the mandate and specific consequences for not complying, I think it's hard to correct that, but it is a reality of what we're dealing with.”

But Dosch also praised UND for its contact tracing efforts thus far and the number of students who have taken the time to train and help the state.

“It's an amazing opportunity for them to contribute to this fight, and also get some pretty good hands-on experience in the realm of public health during a pandemic,” he said.

In Michigan, leaders at Grand Valley State University, with an enrollment of around 24,000 students, are working to address student issues with contact tracing, MLive.com reported.

Local health officials there reported that some students have reported no contacts or declined to give their close contacts, which could be due to a number of issues, including students not understanding what the term "close contact" actually means.

UND will be hosting another testing event on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the High Performance Center, 2419 2nd Ave. N., for the UND community and the general public. The testing event is designed to help test people who may not be able to attend testing during the weekdays.

The testing will run on Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Pre-registration at testreg.nd.gov is recommended. If people have registered in the past, they don’t need to register again.

This event is open to all ages. The event is free and health insurance is not processed.

Other upcoming testing events include:

  • Tuesday, Sept 22, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (High Performance Center)

  • Wednesday, Sept 23, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Basement of the Chester Fritz Auditorium)

  • Tuesday, Sept 29, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (High Performance Center)

  • Saturday, Oct. 3, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. (High Performance Center)