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Grand Forks County Commission moves to commit $400,000 to career-tech center, $1 million to correction center

County Health Director Debbie Swanson divided her assessment of Grand Forks County’s COVID-19 situation into strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Some of Grand Forks County’s strengths are that cases have “leveled off” in the past few weeks at about 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 per day, and that there hasn’t been any progression toward widespread outbreak levels.

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The Grand Forks County Office Building, photographed on Nov. 23, 2015. Photo by Nick Nelson/Grand Forks Herald

The Grand Forks County Commission approved financial commitments to the proposed Career Impact Academy and renovations at the county correctional facility, and also heard a presentation from the county health director during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The commission motioned to approve allocating $400,000 to the academy, which backers hope will ease workforce shortages in the county and region. As reported previously by the Herald, the academy would be something like a trade school, helping steer students students and adult learners toward careers that are needed by local employers.

Research shows local employers say the workforce shortage is hindering economic growth.

The funds committed by the commission will likely come out of the 2022 budget. In a previous meeting, commission members were unsure whether they could afford to allocate funds to the project, based on prior commitments to renovate the Grand Forks County Correctional Facility, among other things.

In another vote regarding financial matters, the commission voted to commit $1 million toward renovations of the infirmary at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center.

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Also Tuesday, the commission heard a presentation from Grand Forks Public Health Director Debbie Swanson regarding COVID-19 progress in the county.

Swanson divided her assessment of Grand Forks County’s COVID-19 situation into strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Some of Grand Forks County’s strengths are that cases have “leveled off” in the past few weeks at about 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 per day, and that there hasn’t been progression toward widespread outbreak levels.

“We’ve been watching for that, as there have been a number of large events and sporting events and various things like that,” Swanson said.

Another positive Swanson noted was that the vaccination level for booster shots in the county has been gradually increasing. The county has been administering Pfizer booster shots for the past few weeks, and Swanson is seeing a promising rate of boosters given based on who is eligible. She anticipates a pediatric Pfizer vaccine sometime in November. The county is closing in on 50% of all county residents, eligible or not, having received a COVID-19 vaccine.

As for weaknesses, Swanson said the county is still seeing high case incidences in all age groups. Swanson said hospitalizations are higher than last year, despite the lower case count. There were also some deaths reported in the past week.

The county is reporting an average of 33.7 cases per day over the past week and is approaching 13,000 total cases since the pandemic began. Swanson noted that there were some deaths reported from last week to this week, but not how many.

“What we’re seeing is just kind of bouncing around between 12 and 19 cases at Altru (Hospital),” Swanson said. “That, of course, is regional, so it’s not just Grand Forks County cases.”

As for opportunities, Swanson said there are factors that could help reduce the number of cases in the county, including a trend of decreased cases in Burleigh and Norton counties, which have recently been hot spots for the virus, and the previously mentioned widening availability of booster shots. She also noted the Centers for Disease Control is still recommending masks be worn indoors, which could reduce the spread.

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Swanson is tempering her expectations while still remaining optimistic.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future,” Swanson said. “If you remember this time last year, we were starting to see significant increases. We peaked near the end of November. That was a very stressful time, and we certainly don’t want to see that repeated. That was, however, during a time when we didn’t have vaccinations.”

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