5 things to know today: COVID-19 costs, Vaccine distribution, Pandemic restrictions, Racial climate, Border communities
A rundown of some of the best stories found on Inforum.
1. So many front-line workers sought help paying COVID-19 costs, North Dakota stopped taking applications
After almost 3,000 of North Dakota's first responders and health care workers applied for funds to help cover their COVID-19-related medical expenses, the state stopped accepting applications Wednesday, Dec. 16, due to the "overwhelming response."
Earlier this month, the North Dakota Legislature approved allocating $2.5 million of the state's federal pandemic stimulus funds to create the Medical Expense Assistance Program to help first responders and front-line health care workers pay for COVID-19 expenses. Applicants could only qualify for the funds if they tested positive for COVID-19, and had not applied or were rejected for worker's compensation.
The North Dakota Department of Commerce, which is administering the program, issued a statement Wednesday saying it did not anticipate so many applications in one week.
Read more from The Forum's Michelle Griffith
2. Burgum, health officials push COVID-19 vaccine as health care workers receive first doses
The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in North Dakota signals "the beginning of the end" to a pandemic that has rocked the state since March, Gov. Doug Burgum said at a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Front-line health care workers at the state's largest hospitals have begun receiving their first of two doses of the vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech. North Dakota has already gotten a shipment of 6,825 doses from Pfizer, and the state has an order in for 13,200 doses of drugmaker Moderna's vaccine, which will likely gain approval from the federal government later this week.
Alena Goergen, the nursing director at Mandan's Miller Pointe long-term care facility, became on Wednesday one of more than 800 North Dakotans who have gotten the recently developed vaccine. Goergen spoke at the press conference about her personal battle against COVID-19 earlier in the year and the pain she sees in the residents of Miller Pointe who may not have seen their families in months. She said she wanted to get the vaccine to alleviate some of the pressure on her colleagues in health care and hasten the return to normalcy for everyone else.
Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley
3. Walz to keep restaurants, bars closed for indoor service, re-open elementary schools
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday, Dec. 16, announced that he would extend an order keeping restaurants and bars closed for indoor service and would authorize elementary schools to reopen with coronavirus mitigation measures in place.
The orders and tweaked restrictions on health clubs, social gatherings and other venues came two days before a monthlong set of curbs were set to lapse in Minnesota. And they garnered mixed reviews from health care groups, business owners, educators and lawmakers.
The first-term Democratic governor said hospital capacity in the state remains a concern but the recent closures helped curve the spread of the illness and bring down demand for hospital beds and ICU care. And because children face a lower risk of developing severe symptoms from the illness, Walz said districts around the state would be able to opt for in-person learning with additional personal protective equipment and testing for teachers.
Read more from Forum News Service's Dana Ferguson
4. NDSU President Dean Bresciani announces plans to improve campus racial climate
After what he called a tumultuous two weeks, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani offered an apology and released a preliminary plan of action and timeline on Wednesday, Dec. 16, to try to improve and ease the racial climate on campus.
The plan, which he described as "just a beginning," follows social media posts uncovered in recent weeks by NDSU students. Bresciani referred to the posts as hate speech against people of color, which he said "has no place on our campus."
One campus Snapchat group used a slur against Black people in its name, while another post included a video mocking the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Read more from The Forum's Barry Amundson
5. Moorhead area legislators call for regional approach to COVID-19, assistance for border communities
Legislators from the Moorhead area discussed their plans to assist border cities and their businesses in advance of the legislative session which begins Monday, Jan. 4.
Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, and Rep.-elect Heather Keeler, D-Moorhead, joined Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the roundtable discussion, which was hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.
The legislators unanimously agreed that the state should adopt a regional-based plan to addressing issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.