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5 things to know today: In-person classes, Unemployment payments, Slowing the spread, Anti-body tests, High school sports

Screenshot of the June 23, 2020 Fargo School Board meeting. .png
Screenshot of the June 23, 2020 Fargo School Board meeting.

1. No final decisions expected until Aug. 10 on in-person Fargo schools

Fargo public school students could be returning to in-person classrooms this fall, according to a plan that emerged Wednesday night, July 29.

A final decision isn't likely to be made until a panel made up of administrators, staff, teachers, public health officials, a school board member and a parent meets on Aug. 10, with follow-up gatherings every two weeks after that time as they review data regarding COVID-19 cases in the community and any other issues.

The plan also recommends that classes start on Sept. 2 instead of Aug. 27.

The draft 82-page "Smart Restart" plan, which must be approved by the school board when they meet at 8 a.m. Thursday, July 30, offers five different instructional options to decide upon, with the highest level meaning school would resume as "normal."

Read more from The Forum's Barry Amundson

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2. Uncertainty over federal unemployment payments leaves North Dakota officials hog-tied

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The Fargo office of Job Service North Dakota is seen April 16 at 1350 32nd St. S. Forum file photo

Lawmakers in Washington are down to the wire this week to extend the federal government's pandemic unemployment program by its expiration date on Friday, July 31, leaving North Dakota agencies in limbo as they prepare to dramatically overhaul an already-complex payment system.

The latest version of the new unemployment insurance program was outlined in a trillion dollar proposal presented by Senate Republicans on Monday. The GOP plan would make significant cuts to the existing $600 per week assistance, temporarily reducing weekly payments to $200 as a short-term fix until states can roll out a more complicated system that would prorate payments to 70% of individuals' previous wages.

These moving parts and the deadline uncertainty in Washington have strained Job Service North Dakota, the state agency tasked with distributing the federal unemployment benefits, leaving it with little direction as it prepares to overhaul its payment system.

Read more from The Forum's Adam Willis

3. Burleigh-Morton health officials amp up efforts to slow COVID-19 spread

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Mandan's Custer Health administrator Erin Ourada, left, and Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch addressed the growing prevalence of COVID-19 in their community on Wednesday, July 29. Michelle Griffith / The Forum.

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The state's capital and its surrounding areas are seeing a rapid increase in the number of residents testing positive for COVID-19, and local health officials are upping efforts to ensure this spike does not mirror the outbreak the Fargo-Moorhead area experienced nearly three months ago.

Officials from Burleigh and Morton County said the highest age group testing positive for COVID-19 is adults ages 21-30. Renae Moch, director of Burleigh-Bismarck Public Health, said Burleigh County is experiencing this increase now because of Fourth of July celebrations in which some residents participated in large gatherings.

"That's kind of been our concern ... people at the Fourth of July for the large gatherings and family gatherings," Moch said. "We're starting to see the impacts of that here in Burleigh County."

Burleigh County has more than double the number of active cases of any county in the state with 285 cases, according to North Dakota Department of Health numbers reported Wednesday, July 29. About 4% of the county's tests results are coming back positive — about twice the entire state's reported positivity rate, Moch said.

Read more from The Forum's Michelle Griffith

4. COVID-19 antibody testing now available at 50 Sanford Health locations

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Sanford Medical Center in southwest Fargo. Forum file photo

If you'd like to take a test that could show whether you've had COVID-19, Sanford Health is now offering antibody testing at many locations in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota, the health system announced Wednesday, July 29.

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COVID-19 antibody testing is available for $65 and getting tested doesn't require prior approval from a doctor or an appointment. The antibody test is what's known as a direct access test, which means insurance is not billed and those who are tested are required to pay when they're testing.

The testing is available at 50 Sanford Health locations. The Sioux Falls-based health system includes nearly 500 clinics and 44 hospitals across the Upper Midwest, including major medical centers in Sioux Falls, Fargo, and Bemidji, Minnesota. Sanford first announced it was rolling out antibody testing in late April, as did Duluth-based Essentia Health .

Antibody tests, also known as serology tests, are not meant to determine if someone currently has COVID-19. Other testing, usually involving swabbing of the nasal passages, looks for the current presence of the virus. Antibody testing, which requires a blood draw analysis, will look for antibodies created by the immune system to fight the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Fugleberg

5. WDA changes schedules for ND high school fall sports due to COVID-19, EDC redesigns football schedule

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The Western Dakota Association announced schedule changes for the fall of 2020, including no North Dakota Class 3A football nonconference football games against the Eastern Dakota Conference teams. David Samson / The Forum

The Western Dakota Association has made changes to its upcoming fall schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced Wednesday, July 29.

That includes canceling nonconference competition between West Region and East Region teams among the state's largest high schools. There are also plans to cancel in-season tournaments in sports like volleyball and tennis, and limit the amount of teams that can compete at an invitational meet in sports like cross country and swimming and diving.

The Eastern Dakota Conference redesigned its football schedule Wednesday after the elimination of nonconference games against WDA teams. The EDC is moving its Weeks 3-6 games to Weeks 1-4. Those first four games will be followed by a bye week during the fifth week of the season.

Read more from The Forum's Eric Peterson

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