Grand Forks readies itself for coronavirus

3D print of a SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—virus particle. The virus surface (blue) is covered with spike proteins (red) that enable the virus to enter and infect human cells. (Submitted / National Institutes of Health)

As the coronavirus heads ashore in the Pacific Northwest, Grand Forks Public Health Department workers’ efforts to contain the virus amount to reminding residents to wash their hands and cover their coughs. They've also kept in contact with their counterparts at the North Dakota Department of Health in Bismarck, among other health agencies.

“We believe that a vaccine is probably 12 to 18 months out at the bare minimum,” Debbie Swanson, the health department’s director, told Grand Forks City Council members at a Monday, March 2, briefing during which she outlined what the department is doing to prepare for the virus . “We know how to vaccinate our entire Grand Forks County population using the Alerus Center in a very short period of time.”

Getting a flu shot can help, too, Swanson said. The shot can mean fewer hospitalizations, she said, which would mean more space for coronavirus patients if or when the need to treat them arises.

City leaders chuckled a little as they discussed Mayor Mike Brown’s power to quarantine parts of the city in the event of a public health emergency.

“I was told that the mayor is old and will get sick and, therefore, it will become my responsibility,” City Council President Dana Sande joked. “And I was asked what I would do, and I said I have no idea what I would do. … For all I know, I’ll get sick and somebody else will have to do it.”


According to Grand Forks City Code, Brown can order the isolation, quarantine or segregation of people or animals to “prevent the introduction or transmission of infectious agents or toxins,” including confinement to private homes.

“Keep me healthy,” Brown joked back to Sande. “That’s your job.”

City Attorney Howard Swanson said he'd prepare a report outlining the mayor's powers in such an event.

At present, two people in North Dakota are being monitored for signs of the coronavirus, and 15 have been monitored to date. Officials at the state health department declined to confirm if any of those cases are or were in Grand Forks County.

“We’re not releasing that level of information on those individuals being monitored,” Kirby Kruger, the department’s director of disease control, told the Herald on Monday. “They’re not posing a threat right now to anybody.”

A full list of the Grand Forks health department's work to address the virus is included in the report below, which was provided to Council members ahead of their Monday meeting:

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

You can reach him at:
What To Read Next
Get Local