Public health workers generally agree that reaching people who haven't gone out of their way to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but who would get one if it was convenient to them, is likely the surest way out of the pandemic. The Herald's Hannah Shirley reports that to do this, they have reiterated the same message as frequently as possible: the vaccines are safe and effective, and once fully vaccinated, you may begin to safely return to some normal activities. As local public health workers' focus has shifted to reaching this population, much of their work has included debunking misinformation regarding the safety of the vaccines.

James Leiman, new Department of Commerce commissioner, says Grand Forks tech accelerator a 'microcosm' of the state

To North Dakota Commerce Commissioner James Leiman, the Herald building in downtown Grand Forks – and local plans to turn it into a tech accelerator – reflect a “microcosm of our state.” The Herald's Adam Kurtz reports that Leiman visited Grand Forks this week to meet with local business leaders, after which he stopped by the Herald building to take a tour and discuss its future. Now in his third month at the helm of the department, Leiman envisions the Department of Commerce teaming up with cities, and entities like chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, to provide support for companies at all stages of development.

'Artist in the Classroom' employees describe loss for students as result of program's elimination

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Even though the full-time coordinator of the Artist in the Classroom program will remain employed with Grand Forks Public Schools next year, the program itself has been eliminated. Mary Kulas, the coordinator, said she’s talked with many people who say they are pleased the program is “saved.” She then has to tell them it will not return. The Herald's Pamela Knudson reports that the confusion comes after the Grand Forks School Board last month voted to make cuts in its workforce but then reversed the decision the following week.

Soaring lumber prices concern Grand Forks' lumberyards, but construction is full-steam ahead

The price of lumber has skyrocketed during the pandemic, but low interest rates are keeping contractors and do-it-yourselfers busy at a time when suppliers are scrambling to keep building materials in stock. The Herald's Adam Kurtz reports that according to the National Association of Home Builders, the price of lumber has tripled since April 2020. This adds an estimated $35,000 to the price of a single-family home. Framing lumber is being sold at around $1,200 per thousand board feet, up 250% since last April, when that amount was selling at about $350.

Recipient of 'Educator of the Year' award, local UND choral teacher reflects on joys and impact of music education

Melanie Popejoy thinks of teaching, first and foremost, as “a people business,” she said. The Herald's Pamela Knudson reports that Popejoy, who serves as associate director of choral activities at UND, has been selected as the Educator of the Year by the North Dakota Music Educators Association. “I have taught in five states,” Popejoy said. “I have met thousands of students. I truly believe I have shared moments with those students that have impacted my life forever. And I’m hoping it has done the same with them.”

UND leaders say campus, students have been resilient this year

UND leaders say resilience has been key for students, faculty, staff and administrators over the last year as the campus dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Herald's Sydney Mook reports that various leaders from across campus participated in a virtual townhall meeting last week to answer questions from students, faculty and staff. Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs and diversity and dean of students, said that the past year has shown that both students and faculty and staff are resilient. Dr. Joshua Wynne, leader of the medical school, however, notes that while the campus did reasonably well from a physical health point of view, the pandemic also took a hit on students’ emotional health.

Bride from Climax, Minn., to include family veil in wedding, carrying on a 99-year-old tradition

Bailey Solheim will carry on a 99-year-old family tradition when she accents her May wedding to Mason Grimes with a veil that’s been worn by generations of his family’s brides. The Herald's Ann Bailey reports that the 5-feet-long lace veil, handmade by Grimes’ great-great-great-grandmother, Paulina Rickford, was first worn at the Dec. 14, 1922, wedding of Rickford’s daughter, Hazel, to Mansfield Ronningen. The ceremony was held on the family farm near Binford, N.D.

In North Dakota, recreational pot didn’t happen this year; is it inevitable?

Marijuana has been getting closer to full legalization in North Dakota for years, with voters approving medical use in 2016. In 2018, they had the chance to legalize recreational use, but the effort ultimately came up short at the ballot box. Herald correspondent Sam Easter reports that the legalization effort’s statewide performance, at about 41% support, was still higher than some expected. One political consultant and Grand Forks resident believes it’s a safe bet that recreational marijuana is on its way.

North Dakota governor partly vetoes bill to restrict state college ties with abortion providers

Gov. Doug Burgum partially vetoed a bill late Friday, May 7, that aims to restrict North Dakota universities from partnering with abortion providers or supporters. Forum correspondent Michelle Griffith reports that Burgum vetoed the part of Senate Bill 2030 that would penalize any of the state's 11 colleges and universities $2.8 million for such a partnership. He also nixed the portion of the bill that said a person who signs a contract with an abortion-supporting group would be criminally charged, with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. However, Burgum signed the rest of the bill, affirming its provision that restricts North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota from partnering with abortion providers or supporters under the Higher Education Challenge Matching Grant.

North Dakota utilities could face legal risks during rampant wildfire season

At the beginning of April, North Dakota experienced one of its most poignant wildfire scares in years: A drought-fueled grass fire burned more than 2,000 acres in the Badlands and reached within a mile of the Old West tourist town of Medora. Forum correspondent Adam Willis reports that the precise cause of the Medora-area fire is still under investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, but emergency responders were quick to blame a low-hanging power line southwest of town in the immediate wake of the event. In the case of power line-sparked fires, the risks could be steep for North Dakota's electricity providers. In other Western states, power line-initiated fires have become a costly and deadly problem, putting big utilities on the losing end in landmark California lawsuits.