5 things to know today: Rising cases, Proof requirement, Downtown Moorhead, Inclusion policy, Project Tundra
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Active COVID-19 case count surpasses peak in North Dakota
Amid an outbreak fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, North Dakota reported the highest active COVID-19 cases count of the entire pandemic on Friday, Jan. 21.
For the first time since a November 2020 peak in cases, the number of active infections has surpassed 10,000. Health experts believe the known cases only paint part of the picture since many other residents are infected but haven't been tested at an official site.
Although the now-dominant omicron strain has seemed to cause a milder illness than previous variants for many people, public health leaders said over the weekend "the sheer number of (virus) patients is flooding hospitals and clinics with sick people."
The wave of cases in North Dakota matches surges seen across the country.
2. Bars and restaurants sue Minneapolis to end vaccine proof requirement
A group of businesses has filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and Mayor Jacob Frey in an attempt to end a proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test requirement at bars and restaurants that went into effect in the city this week.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Jan 20, in Hennepin County District Court, the restaurants and bars asked a judge to nullify the Minneapolis vaccine rule, arguing the policy is an undue burden on businesses that already suffered from restrictions earlier in the pandemic.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a Minnesota Jimmy John's franchisee and several Minneapolis bars including downtown's Gay 90's. The group is represented by Francis Rondoni and Jeffrey O’Brien of the Minneapolis law firm Chestnut Cambronne.
"Minneapolis bars and restaurants are being used as pawns to further Mayor Frey’s agenda of pushing for and convincing the public to get vaccinated," the businesses said in their complaint. "Whether the end being sought is noble, the scheme is forcing restaurants and bars to lose additional patrons and business that have already been reduced over the past two years and incur new costs and burdens to enforce the requirements."
Frey used emergency powers to impose the Minneapolis vaccination or negative test proof requirement, but the businesses in their complaint dispute the current wave of COVID-19 infections constitutes a state of emergency. Minnesota has not been in a pandemic state of emergency since July 2021, they argue.
3. Moorhead City Council to vote on putting new library, community center on ballot
Moorhead City Council members will be asked to approve putting a city sales tax increase on the ballot in November to fund construction of a new regional library and community center downtown.
The issue will be discussed during the council's meeting on Monday night, Jan. 24, and Mayor Shelly Carlson is hoping for a positive response from the council.
A 12-member task force, headed by Lisa Borgen, has been examining the project in recent months and will make a presentation at the meeting, along with library director Megan Krueger.
Carlson and the task force stressed they will be seeking more citizen involvement and input in the coming months before Nov. 8's vote if they get the green light from the City Council to move ahead.
The task force is proposing a downtown location after considering access to public transit, connections to other amenities, parking and other factors. It could possibly be built on the Moorhead Center Mall site, which is primed for new development in the coming years, with Roers Companies heading the effort.
4. UND stops work on proposed gender inclusion policy
UND has stopped work on a proposed gender inclusion policy that caught the attention of the North Dakota Catholic Conference and sparked a community conversation.
In a message released on the morning of Friday, Jan. 21, UND President Andrew Armacost announced the decision to cease work on the policy. Armacost wrote that uncertainties exist about the consequences of not following the draft policy’s guidance on using preferred pronouns on campus for students, faculty and staff. Under that proposed policy, intentionally misgendering a person could be seen as an act of discrimination.
“As a result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members, UND will cease its work on this draft policy and will not implement it,” wrote Armacost.
According to a UND spokesman, Armacost personally met with members of the university’s LGBTQ+ community to discuss the issue of the proposed policy.
5. Project Tundra moves forward as North Dakota approves underground carbon dioxide storage
In a step forward for North Dakota’s flagship carbon capture venture, state leaders approved plans Friday, Jan. 21, for a Grand Forks electric co-op to store millions of tons of greenhouse gases stripped off an Oliver County coal plant deep inside the earth.
The regulatory clearance for Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Project Tundra, granted in a unanimous vote by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, marks the second carbon capture project to receive the state’s green light for underground storage, following approval last October for a much smaller venture at a Richardton ethanol plant.
Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms told the three-member Industrial Commission that Minnkota’s effort is a “hugely important project" and noted its ramifications for the lifespan of the state’s coal industry and for North Dakota’s ambitions of becoming “the hub for carbon storage in the Midwest.”
A process of stripping planet-warming carbon dioxide molecules off of emissions and burying them deep underground, carbon capture and storage is an expensive and so far sparsely used technology that North Dakota leaders have embraced as a way to make industries like coal and ethanol cleaner and more economic for the long-term.