The costs associated with testing college students for COVID-19 this fall are becoming more clear.

The North Dakota University System is planning to host 34 testing events over the next several weeks as the system aims to test nearly all students, faculty and staff before classes begin on Aug. 24.

It’s a task that was expected to cost in “the millions,” Nick Hacker, chair of the State Board of Higher Education, told the Herald in June.

Now it appears that cost may be in the tens of millions after the North Dakota Emergency Commission approved $62.9 million for the North Dakota Department of Health to carry out enhanced testing for the state's education systems.

Included in that nearly $63 million is $20 million for testing within the higher ed system and $10 million for testing in the K-12 system.

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The Legislature's Budget Section will get an up-or-down vote on the distribution of funds at its meeting next week.

The health department also would receive $7.5 million for contact tracing for cases of COVID-19 within the state’s education system.

Both system leaders and Gov. Doug Burgum have touted testing and contact tracing as important tools for returning students to classes this fall.

The university system also was approved for more than $17 million CARES Act money for certain upgrades to campus HVAC systems and personal protective equipment, as well as costs associated with cleaning and sanitizing the campus.

Tammy Dolan, chief financial officer for the North Dakota University System, said, at this point, it’s difficult to tell if the multiple rounds of CARES Act funding -- including a $44.4 allocation from the emergency commission in June and money given directly to campuses back in April -- will cover all of the upgrades campuses have had to do over the past few months, but the money won’t cover other revenue losses the system is facing.

“It's really hard to tell right now if it's going to cover everything because we need to go out and buy and install and get all that time,” she said.

A breakdown of the latest campus allocations includes:

  • North Dakota University System -- $160,400 (this includes $110,400 for student behavioral health and telemental health services)

  • Bismarck State College -- $1,584,357

  • Lake Region State College -- $369,887

  • Williston State College -- $515,932

  • UND -- $6,826,006

  • North Dakota State University -- $2,882,792

  • North Dakota State College of Science -- $1,452,586

  • Dickinson State University -- $1,179,920

  • Mayville State University -- $764,488

  • Minot State University -- $954,560

  • Valley City State University -- $270,627

  • Dakota College at Bottineau -- $393,960

The Emergency Commission declined an additional $32 million in HVAC upgrades for schools, as well as an $8.6 million request related to additional technology, software and instructional resources for higher ed. Also declined was a $7.9 million request for higher ed building upgrades (key card access, cameras) and equipment modifications, and UND’s $1.6 million request for expanded contact tracing.