As the incoming president of the University of North Dakota and the new mayor of Grand Forks, we are humbled by the responsibilities with which we’ve been entrusted by the university and the community. Over the past two months, we’ve developed a strong working relationship, which has been beneficial through focused action and the sharing of resources, including information and data.
As expected, the return of 10,000 college students to the region increased case numbers in Grand Forks County. We know being proactive is the key to maintaining a healthy UND campus and community. As planned, we’ve continued to engage in testing and contact tracing as students have returned to campus. Those who test positive are isolated, while those identified as close contacts are quarantined to prevent the virus from spreading. Our intent was to identify these individuals before classes started to protect UND and the Greater Grand Forks community.
The Grand Forks Public Health Department and other city departments are working closely with UND and the state of North Dakota on testing events for UND students, faculty and staff, as well as support for crucial-contact tracing. Firefighters from the Grand Forks Fire Department have pitched in to help with these resource-intensive activities. UND professionals in medicine, epidemiology, biomedicine and public health are providing their expertise to city decisionmakers. UND students serving as city interns are assisting in researching the frequency of mask usage in Grand Forks and the potential need for additional education. This level of cooperation is ongoing and will continue throughout the pandemic.
Although our goal is to keep UND open, our highest priority is to maintain the health, safety and well-being of UND students, faculty and staff, in addition to the most vulnerable populations within the community. It’s also important to avoid overwhelming the capacity and stability of our healthcare system. We’re encouraged by the very low case numbers for those 60 years and older. Currently, we know that our health care system is on firm ground and we thank Altru for everything they are doing not just for Grand Forks, but the entire region. However, in the near term, we anticipate increases in the number of positive cases among those identified and quarantined as close contacts of earlier positive cases.
Factors and trends on campus and in the community are being closely monitored. An all-inclusive, data-driven approach is guiding our decisions. We continue to work closely with our institutional partners at Altru, Grand Forks Public Schools, Grand Forks County and the Grand Forks Air Force Base to ensure efficient communication and coordination. Each day as we find opportunities to support one another, we realize that Grand Forks is extremely fortunate to have public institutions that work together so effectively.
During these challenging times, it’s crucial to remember the basics: maintain physical distancing; wear a mask when distancing cannot be maintained; wash your hands frequently; and sanitize frequently used surfaces. Our objective is to build a COVID-resistant and COVID-resilient community and university.
As we welcome students back to campus and into our community, we cannot overstress their importance to our businesses, our workforce, our region’s economic prosperity, our very identity and – ultimately – our future. We will continue to move forward as a University and as a community with our institutional partners as one Grand Forks.
Andrew Armacost is president of UND. Brandon Bochenski is mayor of Grand Forks.