5 things to know today: Lenny Tweeden, COVID counting, Food fraud, New school, Clinic fundraiser
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. Local gay rights pioneer Lenny Tweeden passes away at 68
Coming out as gay can be a very difficult process for some still today, and a secret many refuse to share.
Not Lenny Tweeden, however, one of Fargo's pioneer gay rights activists. After more than 40 years of supporting and fighting for LGBTQ rights, Tweeden passed away at the age of 68 on Aug. 3 after struggling with an illness.
“It’s a loss to all of us to have that voice diminished; it’s been a gain for all of us to have that voice exist,” said Fargo City Commissioner John Strand.
Tweeden opened Fargo’s first gay bar in 1983 called My Place.
“It was the first time that gays and lesbians actually had their own space in Fargo, not just an area where they were ‘tolerated’ in an otherwise straight bar,” said Larry Peterson, coordinator of Red River Rainbow Seniors oral history project.
2. At-home COVID tests aren't counted by states, so how many North Dakotans and Minnesotans are getting sick?
It’s hard to know exactly how much the coronavirus is spreading in North Dakota, because the state doesn’t track at-home tests.
With the help of surveys, experts have estimated that while COVID-19 may be as infectious as last summer, it is causing far fewer hospitalizations, one doctor said.
Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota don’t track at-home tests. A positive case of the coronavirus can be confirmed if a person goes to a doctor, seeks treatment or goes to a testing site, said Brenton Nesemeier, a North Dakota Department of Health field epidemiologist.
“The home tests are more of a screening test,” he said.
Fargo Cass Public Health doesn’t track how many at-home tests are distributed. They are given to residents for free, and a number of places in North Dakota distribute the them.
Not counting at-home tests has become a national practice. Those tests are still reliable, Nesemeier said, but they aren’t done under the supervision of medical professionals. Officials don’t know the conditions in which the test was taken or if directions were fully followed, he said.
That means the coronavirus count is underreported, Dr. Tracie Newman acknowledged.
3. Fraud and weak USDA oversight chip away at integrity of organic food industry
From South Dakota News Watch via Forum News Service
Trey Wharton of Sioux Falls has made numerous sacrifices in his life in order to maintain a healthful lifestyle centered around a vegan diet and consistent consumption of organic foods.
To afford organic products that are sometimes double or triple the cost of conventionally grown foods, Wharton works two jobs, doesn’t take vacations and drives a dented SUV.
“I’m investing in this vessel,” Wharton said, pointing at himself, “rather than in that vessel,” he added, motioning toward his 2011 Honda. “I pay more and sacrifice to invest my money in the foods I want.”
Wharton, 31, acknowledges that he is forced to trust the organic industry to uphold its promise that the foods are minimally processed, are grown without chemicals or additives, and are truly more healthful than non-organics.
“I don’t have a place in that system, so I have to trust them,” Wharton said.
Like other consumers who buy organic, Wharton sometimes wonders and worries if he’s actually getting what he believes he is buying. He is well aware of a few high-profile cases of organic food fraud — including a recent multimillion-dollar fake organic grain scam in South Dakota — in which unscrupulous producers made millions of dollars by illegally selling conventional grains packaged and sold as organic.
4. A look inside the giant new Moorhead High School under construction
The first day of classes for Moorhead Area Public Schools will be Aug. 29, which is earlier than usual but serves an important purpose: Come spring, it will give workers an earlier start on the outdoor construction season.
That's important for the ongoing project to build Moorhead's new high school, which is going up north of the existing high school that was completed in the late 1960s.
A new high school was made possible by a $110 million bond issue approved by voters in November 2019 , with about $88 million of that going to build the new high school and about $22 million of that amount going toward the cost of the Moorhead Career Academy, which opened last October where a Sam's Club in south Moorhead once stood.
When students return to classes in late August for the 2022-23 school year, they will be returning to the existing high school while work continues on phase one of the new high school.
Phase one includes construction of three academic wings that radiate from a central commons area. One of three academic wings is two stories tall, while the other two wings are three stories tall.
Phase one also includes a new swimming pool and a large gymnasium.
5. Fargo abortion clinic fundraiser tops $1 million for move to Moorhead
A fund established to help the only abortion clinic in North Dakota move across the border to Moorhead in order to remain open has reached a significant milestone.
An online fundraiser for the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo topped the $1 million mark over the weekend prior to Monday, Aug. 8.
The account was created in late June after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, leaving it up to states to decide abortion rights.
North Dakota was among more than a dozen states with “trigger” laws on their books, which would effectively ban abortion if Roe no longer applied.
The initial fundraising goal on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic was $20,000 but was continually adjusted upward as donations rolled in.
Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker said the milestone mark almost doesn't feel real.
“I literally had to bend over to catch my breath when someone told me it had hit $1 million,” she said.
Kromenaker said she’s “humbled and grateful” for the overwhelming amount of support from local, national and international donors.