State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte issued a quarantine order on Saturday, April 18, directing employees of LM Wind Power to quarantine for 14 days starting April 16. If convicted, violators of the order could face up to 30 days in prison or up to a $1,500 fine.
But without a list of people required to be quarantined in Grand Forks, local law enforcement say they have limited means to enforce the order.
"We don't even know the people that are under quarantine now," Grand Forks Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Dave Stromberg said. "We weren't provided that information from the health department, so we wouldn't even know who to look for. We're not actively going and looking for people violating the quarantine order, because we don't know who that is."
The quarantine order was issued in response to a COVID-19 outbreak among employees of LM Wind Power in Grand Forks. As of Monday afternoon, more than 120 people have tested positive in connection with the outbreak.
The current order only applies to LM Wind Power employees and not their household members, though Gov. Doug Burgum has urged those who live with quarantined individuals not to leave their homes in order to slow the spread of coronavirus through the Grand Forks community. In addition to remaining in their homes, the order requires quarantined individuals to cooperate with local and state health officers to participate in contact tracing and to notify their health care providers if they develop symptoms of COVID-19.
When reached for comment, the North Dakota Department of Health directed the Herald to submit a written request to the North Dakota Joint Information Center, which has not yet been fulfilled. Grand Forks Public Health also directed the Herald to the City of Grand Forks for comment. City spokesperson John Bernstrom told the Herald that a registry of people required to quarantine cannot be made available to law enforcement because of HIPAA and other patient privacy concerns.
Both GFSO Lt. Joel Lloyd and Grand Forks Police Lt. Travis Benson said their respective departments have not yet received any complaints of LM employees violating the order. If the police department does receive a complaint, Benson said that, without knowing who is required to quarantine, investigating that complaint could pose somewhat of a challenge.
"Believe it or not, people do lie to us on occasion," Benson said. "So if we said, 'We were told in investigating this that you're an LM employee, you're supposed to be quarantining,' and somebody said, 'No we're not,' I mean, there's not a whole lot we can do with that right now. It's easier said than done confirming that."
Benson said complaints would likely be passed on to NDDOH to evaluate, and, if a person is found to be in violation of the quarantine order, the violator would likely be issued a citation after the fact, but he and Stromberg agreed every complaint would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
But Benson said with hundreds of potentially contagious individuals in the Grand Forks community, the safety of officers while responding to calls is a major concern.
"Quite frankly, we have had several calls with (LM Wind Power employees) since this all popped up, all really, really minor things you'd never think twice about, but I mean, it's a concern of ours," Benson said. "We're trying to take all the risk mitigation steps we can, either the use of PPE protective equipment, or distancing, any of those types of things, but we're absolutely worried."
Stromberg said dispatchers are screening callers for symptoms so officers can take appropriate precautions when responding, and Benson said police are encouraging people to report crimes online or over the phone.
Benson's greatest concern is the possibility of an outbreak in the police department, which he said could be "devastating" to GFPD's manpower and ability to respond to calls.
Though there have yet to be any complaints about LM employees, Benson said GFPD has fielded other complaints about people hosting large gatherings, or people failing to quarantine after international travel. So far, he said police have taken an educational approach to those offenders rather than a punitive one. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to escalate in Grand Forks, Benson said it's unclear whether that approach will have to change.
"I'm not going to say it's not possible, but it's a tough thing," he said. "We're balancing some of those orders, and constitutional rights, there's lots of things involved. I would say we want this over with as much as the next person, but there's still different protocol we have to follow to ensure it's done the right way. I know that's not much of an answer, but we're hoping we don't have to."