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5 things to know today: Test shortage, Safer elections, In-person polling, Fargo budget, UND hour cuts

A North Dakota National Guard member collects a specimen from people directed to report for coronavirus testing at the Fargodome, Saturday, April 25, Fargo. The testing was closed to the general public, but included essential workers, people with symptoms of COVID-19 and those who have had close contact with confirmed cases of the disease. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

1. Supply shortage puts COVID-19 testing events on hold around North Dakota

North Dakota's ability to process test samples for the coronavirus experienced a major slowdown over the weekend.

The problem was a shortage of deep-well trays, or plates, that the North Dakota Department of Health microbiology lab uses to analyze test samples, roughly cutting in half the number of samples the lab could process, state officials said Monday, May 4.

The shortage forced the cancellation of a COVID-19 testing event that was planned for Monday at the Fargodome, as well as testing events elsewhere, including one that was planned for Tuesday in Williston and several long-term care testing events, according to officials who said events will be rescheduled.

Read more from The Forum's Dave Olson

2. Minn. House expands HAVA dollars to make elections safer as coronavirus spreads


River Falls City Clerk Lu Ann Hecht holds a stack of ballots from people who've already voted in the Nov. 8 election. Hundreds more early voting ballots have been turned or mailed in. In the weeks ahead, hundreds more are expected to keep the early voting trend going in River Falls. The city clerk's office is the first open window on the left as you walk past the City Hall entrance. Call, email or go there for absentee voting questions. (River Falls Journal photo by Phil Pfuehler)

With the November 2020 election mere months away and the coronavirus pandemic dragging on, Minnesota lawmakers are expanding the permissible use of federal elections dollars for coronavirus response at the polls.

The state House on Monday, May 4 voted 119-14 to pass House File 3429, which if signed into law, will open up Help America Vote Act (HAVA) federal funds for the Minnesota Secretary of State and local elections officials to beef up safety precautions for voters and poll workers as it appears Americans will be casting their ballots amid pandemic this fall. The legislators pointed to the neighboring state of Wisconsin as how not to run elections during a pandemic , with few, crowded precincts open and waiting times stretching on for hours in last month's primaries.

Read more from Forum News Service's Sarah Mearhoff

3. Fargo, Cass County reject in-person polling site


Area union leaders and advocacy organizations banded together Wednesday, April 29, during an online press conference to voice their concerns and make recommendations to the state on how to better support working families.

The program, named “We Stand Together,” highlighted recommendations that included worker safety, an eviction moratorium to last through the coronavirus pandemic and then 90 days more and paid family and medical leave.


Proposals also included streamlining and modernizing unemployment, improving access to food and health care coverage, and ensuring higher education protection.

Read more from The Forum's Barry Amundson

4. Fargo cuts $10.1 million from general fund, projects

A portable toilet and sink stand Thursday, April 23, outside Fargo City Hall as the building is locked to the public. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Fargo City Commissioners unanimously approved cutting about $10.1 million from the city's general fund and capital improvement projects Monday night, May 4, due to economic troubles associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

City Administrator Bruce Grubb said it was "step one" in the city's budget management process that they will continue to monitor in the coming months.

He said for the first quarter that ended March 31, they had a drop of about 6% in revenue for the general fund and 2% in utility funds.

Grubb said revenue reductions total about $3 million today, so the cuts in the general fund would match that number.


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5. Around 400 UND employees to be affected by hours reduction

UND logo University of North Dakota flame

Around 400 University of North Dakota staff members will be affected by the university’s “reduction in effort” in the coming weeks and months.

The university is facing an estimated $11 million revenue shortfall in the current quarter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the university is reducing the hours of about 400 employees, whose work has been temporarily impacted by the pandemic, to a small percentage or zero.

A full breakdown of the number of employees who will have their hours reduced to zero was not immediately available Monday, May 4. UND employs around 1,700 staff members.

Read more from Forum News Service's Sydney Mook

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