Task force plans 6,000 coronavirus tests in Fargo-Moorhead area this week

Testing will be targeted, with no mass testing clinics such as those that have been conducted at the Fargodome planned, Mayor Tim Mahoney said.

Coronavirus art graphic
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FARGO — Public health officials plan to test 6,000 people for the coronavirus this week in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area as a task force's efforts to reduce the wildfire spread of the pandemic intensify.

The announcement of the large-scale testing by local officials came Wednesday, May 13, as state officials disclosed 76 more positive cases were identified in North Dakota, including 69 in Cass County.

Positive case numbers are certain to rise, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney warned, as testing increases sharply to identify those who are infected so their close contacts can be quarantined to halt the spread.

“You’ll see National Guard members in the community,” the mayor said, adding that the Guard will help test vulnerable communities, including nursing homes and other congregate living settings where the contagious coronavirus can rapidly spread.

Testing will be targeted, with no mass testing clinics such as those that have been conducted at the Fargodome planned, Mahoney said.


“We will not have events like the Fargodome in the future,” he said. “We’ll have more targeted events.”

Despite the continued rise in cases, Mahoney said it wouldn't be appropriate to issue a stay-at-home order in Fargo. Cass County's 8% positive rate compares to a 15% national average — and has dropped by almost 2% even as testing has increased significantly, he said.

"This is why it is important to look at the story behind the raw data," the mayor said. "At this time, it would not make sense to issue a stay-at-home order in Fargo."

Leaders continue to assess the situation daily, including a review of testing results and a forecast of hospital capacity, he said. Any decision to issue a stay-at-home order would be made in consultation with Gov. Doug Burgum.

"At every level of our government, we are fully immersed in this pandemic and will do what is needed to truly protect our citizens," Mahoney said.

The job of containing the coronavirus is complicated by the fact that 10% to 15% of those who test positive in Cass County have no symptoms and are unaware they are infectious and spreading the virus, Mahoney said.

Focused testing will follow an “epidemiological path,” said Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health and head of the Red River Valley COVID-19 Task Force.


“Targeted testing involves focusing our efforts on groups that may have a higher exposure risk,” she said. “This could be due to a number of factors, including employment, occupation, congregate living situations or having a known exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.”

Testing won’t be limited to nursing homes.

“It could be any congregate living facilities, businesses with identified cases or close contacts identified through contact tracing,” Fleming said. “When clusters of groups are identified through epidemiology data, this may drive facility testing as well.”

The task force, which launched last week, includes Clay County and is receiving assistance from both the North Dakota and Minnesota health departments to guide testing and other aspects of the response.

Cass County is North Dakota’s hot spot, accounting for 55% of the state’s cases but so far receiving only 22% of testing. As of Thursday, Cass County had 935 positive cases and Clay County had 256 for a metro area total of 1,191 cases.

But 47.7% of North Dakota’s test results reported Wednesday were from Cass County, reflecting the state’s effort to increase screening in the state’s primary trouble spot.

The coronavirus infection rate in Cass County stands at 515 per 100,000 residents, far greater than any other county in the state. Grand Forks County follows at a rate of 420, with a rate of 111 in Burleigh County and 41 in Ward County, North Dakota’s other urban centers.

The task force plans to conduct 5,000 to 7,000 tests per week, Mahoney said. That number is a testing allotment set by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s office.


Kathy McKay, administrator of Clay County Public Health, said the county will coordinate with state health officials to determine testing on the Minnesota side.

"We expect to identify more positive cases” as a result of the significant ramp up in testing, Fleming said.

Testing locations will not be publicized to protect privacy, she said. Because testing supplies are limited, they must be targeted to the populations most at risk, Fleming has said.

Officials once again urged Fargo-Moorhead residents to take precautions, including social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks when they can't avoid close contact — such as in stores — and frequent handwashing to prevent spreading the virus.

"This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint," Fleming said.

Sanford Health reported Wednesday that it is treating about 40 hospital patients for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Essentia Health reported that it is treating four or five hospital patients, although the number recently has hovered between eight and 10 at a time.

Once cases are identified, Fleming said, the next step is to provide support and services so people can stay quarantined.

“This means they are able to stay home and not spread the virus,” she said.


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