National Guard to conduct another mass coronavirus test in Grand Forks

U.S. Public Health Service workers test for COVID-19 virus at a drive-thru mass testing at the LM Wind Power facility on Thursday, April 16. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota National Guard plans to test another large batch of people for coronavirus at the Alerus Center parking lot in Grand Forks.

Beginning at noon, Guard members are set to test on Thursday, April 23, about 100 close contacts of LM Wind Power employees who have a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, and about 350 employees at J.R. Simplot Company.

The plan for Thursday’s “mass testing event” is fundamentally similar to one Guard members conducted last week , where they tested 426 people at LM’s plant near Interstate 29.

That test happened after North Dakota Department of Health staff began to suspect a “cluster” of cases at the plant after several LM employees tested positive for the virus in a short period of time.

Between last week’s mass test and ones conducted by Altru Health System, 128 people who are associated with the plant have tested positive.


Major General Alan Dohrmann said the National Guard is planning to bring between 700 to 800 tests to Grand Forks on Thursday with the hopes of detecting any new cases and to learn more about how the state’s strategies are working.

“As we gather this information, we can start to see where the links are maybe between cases,” Dohrmann said during the state’s daily COVID-19 press conference Wednesday, April 21. “The more information we can get to figure out about where this spread is going so we can get out ahead of it, then the quicker we can beat back those hot spots like we had in Grand Forks.”

He said the National Guard has been in “close coordination” with city leaders and the local health department.

Dohrmann said he thinks the state has been “very proactive” with the LM Wind Power outbreak. He noted that mass testing was done shortly after the positive cases were discovered at the plant as the important groups -- Grand Forks city leaders, state health officials, the National Guard and leaders from LM and General Electric -- all worked together quickly.

“We had drive-thru testing on the ground, testing a large portion of their workforce, symptomatic close contacts, household contacts and asymptomatic (contacts),” he said.

Dohrmann said the reason the National Guard and the health department didn't go back to do more testing the next day was to get a better idea of how the disease was spreading. Experts said about seven to 10 days later would be best for additional testing, he said.

“If you really want to get a sample of how the disease is spreading you have to give it a little bit of time,” he said. “If we went up the next day, we might get the same results. But you wait seven to 10 days out there, you'll get a better idea of how the disease is spreading throughout that business and potentially throughout the community.”

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown characterized the followup test as necessary and proactive.


“Further surveillance through this testing will help us best understand and mitigate community spread,” he said.

LM and Simplot are both closed, presently, for cleaning. Simplot leaders said on April 21 that no employees there have tested positive. LM employs about 880 people in Grand Forks, and Simplot employs about 400.

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:
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