FARGO — Cass County public health officials will urge local government leaders to encourage their employees to follow guidance to reduce the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus as health providers prepare for another surge.

Earlier this month, when Cass County’s transmission risk increased to substantial — the risk level has since increased to high — Fargo Cass Public Health issued recommendations, including wearing masks in public indoor settings. Physicians who advise Fargo Cass Public Health warn that a surge in cases driven by the rapidly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus is building.

“Everybody says it’s coming,” Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health, said at the health board’s meeting Friday, Aug. 13. If the community fails to take proactive steps, “We’re going to have a tough time slowing it down.”

Unfortunately, people are slow to act until they see obvious signs of a public health emergency, she said. “People have to physically see that things are bad around them.”

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Dr. Tracie Newman, health officer for Fargo Cass Public Health, said the time has come to act.

“We’re really looking to be more proactive this time around than reactive,” she said.

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The Board of Health voted unanimously on Friday to send a letter to elected leaders representing the cities of Fargo and West Fargo and Cass County to encourage their employees to follow public health guidance.

Health board members noted that national companies have been leading in having their employees take precautionary measures, including wearing masks indoors, and said public employers should take similar action.

The action comes as the highly transmissible delta variant has rapidly overtaken other variants to become the predominant strain of the coronavirus.

Elsewhere in the country, including the South, hospitals are being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and even pediatric intensive care units are seeing a dramatic increase in cases.

Health providers don’t want the community to take a passive “wait and see” approach to another surge and worry that the public is being complacent, said Chelsey Matter, the board’s chairwoman.

“They don’t want to go through that again,” she said, referring to the spike in cases last fall that threatened to overwhelm hospitals and strained health care workers.

After battling the pandemic for almost two years, public health workers and health providers continue to carry out their missions “even though they are physically and mentally exhausted,” Fleming said.

“We’re really worried about burnout for our public health staff and the same with our health care providers,” she said.

Cass County had 246 active cases as of Friday, with a 14-day rolling testing positivity rate of 4.8%, well above the 3% threshold that public health officials like to see. At the peak of the pandemic last fall, Cass County had more than 1,600 active cases and a 17% positivity rate.

Cass County accounted for 25.6% of North Dakota’s 959 active cases as of Friday, according to figures from the North Dakota Department of Health.

“We know we’re not at the levels we need to be,” Matter said.