Since September, North Dakota has led the nation in the rate of new Covid cases. We have been No. 1, except occasionally when South Dakota surpassed us. But it is not just the increase that is alarming. Total numbers are scary too, and North Dakota has 2,500 new Covid cases every day. Today, in Grand Forks, if you have an event with 10 guests, there's an 80% chance at least one person has the virus and will infect others.
How did things get this bad? Mostly because our governor, mayor, City Council, and others did not follow advice given by experts months ago. Instead of enacting strong rules to combat the pandemic, they issued weak unenforced guidelines. Events like the Pride of Dakota Showcase at the Alerus (last week) went ahead as scheduled. And this week, those same civic leaders announced new rules that are too little too late. For example, they restricted hours for bars and restaurants, which will have a very small effect. Instead, they should order bars and restaurants closed except for carry out, which could significantly slow the virus spread.
In Grand Forks, we have extra risk because of UND. Despite knowing the consequences, UND elected to have students return to campus in August. As expected, Grand Forks COVID-19 cases jumped to new levels. Next week many UND students will travel home for Thanksgiving. When they return to Grand Forks there will, inevitably, be another jump in cases. Yet even in this crisis time the university is unwilling to move all classes on-line and to tell students not to return for the last two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
More than 30 people have died of COVID in Grand Forks County. More will die given the current infection rates. It is inevitable. And many of these deaths and many illnesses and lingering health problems could have been avoided if civic and university leaders had acted responsibly.
Consider this: in Grand Forks today, the risk of contracting the virus is much greater than ever before. But the rules in place to restrict its spread are less stringent than last spring. That is the result of irresponsible and shameful decision making by state, city, and university officials.