Grand Forks County is nearly halfway to herd immunity, a key threshold that public health workers hope to meet or exceed as they work to contain a novel coronavirus.

As of Sunday, April 4, 16,320 county residents have either received both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or the only needed dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That’s 39.2% of the 41,671 people needed to reach “herd immunity,” a term that means enough people have been vaccinated against the virus and left it nowhere to go, epidemiologically speaking, before it eventually runs out of figurative steam. Grand Forks Public Health staff briefed City Council members on those figures at Monday’s council meeting.

“I think those numbers are looking great,” Mayor Brandon Bochenski said.

The city and Altru Health System’s combined vaccination program administered about 2,200 vaccine doses at a clinic last Wednesday. They’re set to administer about 1,700 at another clinic this Wednesday.

But the virus is also rebounding slightly in Grand Forks County and beyond: the rate and number of COVID-19 infections in the county has been steadily rising for about a month now, and the percentage of clinical tests that come back positive has hovered around 5% for the past week.

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The Grand Forks Health Officer’s Dashboard, a locally minded coronavirus risk gauge that city and county staff put together last summer as seams started to appear in the statewide “smart restart” rubric, indicates that the virus poses a “moderate” risk to county residents. Grand Forks County Health Officer Joel Walz rescinded a countywide mask mandate last month after the gauge indicated a “low” risk for 14 consecutive days, but that rating has since gotten more severe.

The dashboard takes into account new COVID-19 cases per capita, the rate at which those cases are popping up, the percent of tests that come back positive, the number of tests administered per capita, and Altru’s self-assessment of its ability to handle coronavirus patients. The uptick in risk rating is largely due to the uptick in new cases and the percent of positive tests. Hospital staff did not report a strain on their capacity on Monday and a hefty number of Grand Forks County residents have been tested for the virus over the past week.

In related news, council members on Monday:

  • Were briefed on a University Avenue corridor study that indicates that most Grand Forks residents feel the area is worthy of public investment. The council voted to begin looking at removing “center-of-street” zoning boundaries along University from North Third Street to the “mill spur” that sits near the intersection of University Avenue and North 9th Street. The change would shift the zoning boundary such that properties north of the street would be zoned the same as those on the south side of the street, which, the study claims, would encourage developers to look at the corridor as a whole rather than one plot at a time.

  • Reappointed Michelle Rakoczy and Heather Everson to the city and county’s joint Emergency Management Board, and Ryan Graf to the city’s Special Assessment Commission. Still at large is a decision on Becky Ronkowski, whom Bochenski nominated for a spot on the Grand Forks Library Board but has yet to be confirmed -- or not confirmed -- by the council amid concerns about the nomination process and Ronkowski herself.