Grand Forks leaders put together their own color-coded system to gauge the spread of a novel coronavirus here, and it indicates that the county was at a “high risk” level on Sunday, Aug. 16.
Staff from the city’s health department briefed City Council members on Monday on a repository of Grand Forks County-specific data grabbed from the North Dakota Department of Health’s website and collated by the city’s public information office for the past several months. That means county-level trend lines that map new positive cases, testing totals, the number of tests that come back positive and so on.
Health department staff used that data to determine where the county would sit within different strata of COVID-19 risk levels put forth by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the White House’s coronavirus task force. The end result is a weighted score that indicates the general risk presented by the virus in Grand Forks County.
“We want this to be something people can use as a locally-sourced adjunct to assist with decision making,” said Michael Dulitz, Grand Forks Public Health’s opioid response coordinator who’s been doubling as a contact tracer during the pandemic.
As of Sunday, an average of 22.6 Grand Forks County residents had tested positive for COVID-19 over the preceding seven days, during which a total of 1,464 tests had been administered. Of the people tested over that week, 12.3% tested positive; there were 49% more positive tests that week than the week prior.
That, combined with a more subjective “hospital score” from Altru Health System that indicated more or less normal operations there, put the county’s weighted score at 1.8, which is approximately in the middle of the orange “high risk” category in the city’s system.
But, by itself, that determination doesn’t mean anything. At present, the city’s system has no recommendations for residents or policymakers based on the color category in which they might find themselves.
It’s designed to augment existing systems, perhaps most readily one established under North Dakota’s “smart restart" plan, which puts forth a series of recommendations for people and businesses based on a color-coded risk level: green “new normal” recommendations are less stringent than orange “moderate” ones, for example.
But the metrics the state’s system uses to determine each risk level are essentially out of reach for the public and local governments: of the 11 measurements the state uses to determine risk levels, none specific to any North Dakota county are explicitly published on the state health department’s website.
Some organizations, such as Edgewood Healthcare, Grand Forks’ city government and the Herald, have compiled day-by-day county-level figures that yield four of those 11 measures.
The remainder are not there, but state health workers have repeatedly assured Grand Forks staff and the Herald that more metrics will be published on the state health department's website shortly.