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As cases fall, Grand Forks County Commission makes masks optional in county buildings

Friday, Feb. 25, the CDC changed its guidelines to make masking recommended only in areas with high transmission rates. Tom Ford, Grand Forks County administrator, said there has been growing concern from county staff about low compliance with the current mask mandate in county buildings.

The Grand Forks County Office Building. Photo by Nick Nelson for the Grand Forks Herald.
The Grand Forks County Office Building. Photo by Nick Nelson for the Grand Forks Herald.

GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks County Commission opted Tuesday to amend the masking policy in county buildings, making masks optional as of March 2.

On Friday, Feb. 25, the CDC changed its guidelines to make masking recommended only in areas with high transmission rates. Tom Ford, Grand Forks County administrator, said there has been growing concern from county staff about low compliance with the current mask mandate in county buildings.

“It’s starting to have a real effect on morale with the staff,” Ford said. “There’s a hesitation among a lot of staff, and I understand why, to approach individuals not wearing masks because of our current political climate surrounding COVID and masks. It's become quite touchy, so staff are not comfortable approaching people who are wearing masks in buildings.”

Ford said he polled department heads on their thoughts about the mask policy, and the consensus was department heads would like to see the policy amended, from masks being required to masks being either optional or recommended.

The commission unanimously agreed to make masks optional in county buildings, with the caveat that it could, in the future, go back to required if cases skyrocket again.

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The commission also was briefed with good news by the Grand Forks Health Department’s Michael Dulitz.

Dulitz’s bottom line was COVID-19 case rates are in a “rapid decline” in Grand Forks County, which had previously been in the red “high risk” designation for transmission. He called it "a very pleasant development.”

“Our testing rate is still relatively high, so we're fairly confident that we're getting a good sample of the population,” Dulitz said.

READ MORE ABOUT GRAND FORKS COUNTY COMMISSION

Dulitz said no age group shows worrisome numbers at the moment. He said the extreme high levels of cases during the omicron outbreak were too high to be sustained in the first place.

“Those numbers are very firmly on a downward trend, particularly in some of these subgroups,” Dulitz said. “We're not seeing any group that is positively a particular concern right now — just the ones that are better than others.”

Dulitz said the omicron BA.2 subvariant has been spreading in the United States. But though it spreads even easier than omicron, it does not bring worse symptoms.

“Altru hospital only has three COVID positive inpatients today, which is the lowest it's been in a very long time,” Dulitz said Tuesday.

Grand Forks County recorded 103 cases last week to put it just over 22,000 since the pandemic began. There was an increase in deaths over the fall and winter, but now with the decrease of cases and hospitalizations, Dulitz is optimistic about the situation – especially with the county now only at "moderate risk" on its COVID-19 dashboard, with 57.9% of residents having received two doses of the vaccine.

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In other news, the commission was presented with an option to make Juneteenth, which is now a federal holiday, a paid holiday for those in Grand Forks County. Gov. Doug Burgum previously recognized the holiday, but not as a paid one, and left it up to local legislators to decide if they want to recognize it as a paid holiday. Ultimately, the commission opted to keep Juneteenth as an unpaid holiday in order to match Burgum’s decision.

Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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