Grand Forks COVID-19 cases, other metrics continue downward trend

COVID-19 infection rates and other metrics used to measure the virus' spread in Grand Forks County continued their downward trend, according to Grand Forks Public Health workers. That, in turn, means the region is moving further from the dire predictions put forward during a surge in cases earlier this winter.

UND testing event.jpg
A sign welcomes participants to a coronavirus testing event at UND in August 2020. (Grand Forks Herald photo)

Metrics that track the spread of coronavirus through the Grand Forks area continued to trend downward through the Thanksgiving holiday, but analysts warned Monday that the region isn’t yet out of the figurative woods.

The city’s proprietary risk gauge has been dipping closer and closer to the yellow “moderate” risk category, mostly due to slower case rates and a lower positivity rate among people who get a coronavirus test. Meanwhile, “active” coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to drop in Grand Forks County.

“We are pointed very much in the right direction,” Michael Dulitz, a Grand Forks Public Health opioid response coordinator who was pressed into service as a COVID data analyst, told Grand Forks City Council members on Monday.

Dulitz’s dire predictions earlier this winter about the virus’ spread have not come true. That’s because they assumed that the infection rates and other figures that were present at the time wouldn’t change. The worryingly high number of possible future cases in Grand Forks County has, naturally, dropped as countywide infection rates slowed.

Dulitz showed council members a graph that plotted how many total positive cases there could have been in the county at present if metrics on certain dates over the past few months held steady. A green line pointed sharply upward to indicate virtually exponential spread if countywide infection rates didn’t budge from Oct. 28 onward.


“That’s where we could have been,” Dulitz said.

A graphic presented Monday, Dec. 21, to Grand Forks City Council members showing the predicted prevalence of a novel coronavirus in Grand Forks County if case rates held steady from certain dates onward. The more recent forecasts, which are based on less worrisome viral trends than their predecessors, predict fewer total COVID-19 cases.

The predicted “curve” flattened as Dulitz clicked through more recent projections. The county had seen approximately 9,000 total cases on Sunday, a figure that’s at most half the size of what it would have been if trends hadn’t changed from November onward.

“I’m glad to say that I was 100% wrong in making those projections because differences or changes happened in the course of COVID in the community,” Dulitz said. City and state leaders in November implemented a slew of restrictions on people and businesses in an effort to slow the virus’ spread, and Google cell phone location data analyzed by a city consultant indicates that more people have been staying home over the past few weeks than they were last January.

But there’s still cause for concern, even as coronavirus vaccines begin to roll out nationwide to health care workers and politicians.

North Dakota tests the sewage in several cities for traces of COVID because people who have the virus can “shed” it in their feces even if they don’t have symptoms, so, the thinking goes, testing sewer water can be a way to gauge the virus’ spread in a community. And, even as countywide cases trend downward, samples taken from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks’ shared water treatment plant over the past three weeks don’t show a corresponding decrease in the prevalence of the virus in the cities’ wastewater. That, Dulitz said, could mean there is undetected viral spread here.

Beyond that, people may take the relatively low case counts and other favorable statistics as a sign that they can head to a holiday party or other get-together that could end up spreading the virus.


“All of us could get easily lulled into thinking case counts are low, so let’s get in our gatherings while the case counts are low,” Dulitz told council members. “I would still urge a lot of caution when individuals are making plans for the holidays just because we don’t want to lose the progress that we’ve had at the same time.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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