You have a 50% chance of meeting someone with COVID-19 at Cass County gatherings of 10 or more

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Nov. 18, in City Hall. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — Leading doctors at Sanford Health and Essentia Health pleaded with people to do their part to help contain the coronavirus spread as the pandemic enters a new phase and hospitals are at capacity.

Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and chief medical officer of Sanford Fargo, and Dr. Rich Vetter, chief medical officer at Essentia Fargo, said hospital staffs are straining to care for record volumes of patients as the pandemic continues.

“Our hospital is incredibly busy,” Griffin said at a briefing Wednesday, Nov. 18. Sanford’s three campuses are consistently running “well above 500” inpatients, with about 100 of those sick with COVID-19.

That’s four times the average 25 COVID-19 patients Sanford was treating last spring, he said.

You have a 50% chance of meeting someone with COVID-19 at Cass County gatherings of 10 or more


“Our hospitals and other hospitals across the state are full,” Griffin said. “There really is no place else to go.”

In Bismarck, Sanford announced Tuesday that next week it will open a 20-bed special care unit for COVID-19 patients at a former outpatient surgery center to create more capacity for a city whose hospitals have been overwhelmed.

With infection rates and hospitalization rates at record levels, Essentia is doing its best to meet challenges involving staffing, space and supplies, Vetter said.

Both Sanford and Essentia have hired additional staff, including traveling nurses. Sanford has hired 120 traveling nurses, some for up to 13 weeks, with 50 starting later in November, Griffin said.

The two doctors and Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who is a physician, urged everyone to do their part by wearing masks when out in public, avoiding large gatherings, social distancing and frequently washing their hands — steps they say can make a real difference in alleviating the pressures on hospitals.

“We ask the community to continue to support us in these efforts,“ Vetter said. “As health care providers, we can’t fight this pandemic alone.”


Brenton Nesemeier, a field epidemiologist for the North Dakota Department of Health, said Cass County is reeling from the pandemic, dealing with more than 1,500 active cases and a 14-day average positivity rate of 16.6%, “which is very high. We’d like to see that below 5%.”

Cass County consistently sees more than 200 new confirmed cases daily and averaged 246 new cases over the past two weeks. “Some of these are mild, some of these are severe,” Nesemeier said.

So far, 14,113 people in Cass County have been infected with the virus, or more than 7.5% of the population, most of them in the 20-29 age category, he said.

Also, 114 Cass County residents have died as of Wednesday.

The trends are especially worrisome with Thanksgiving next week, a traditional time for people to gather with friends and relatives to celebrate the holiday.

“This is not the time to get together for in-person group meetings or social gatherings,” Nesemeier said.

A risk assessment tool from Georgia Tech indicates that anyone gathering in a group of 10 or more in Cass County runs a 50% chance of meeting someone infected by the virus, he said.

“You’re really flipping a coin when you have a gathering of 10 or more,” he said. In gatherings of 50 or more, the risk of exposure jumps to 97%, according to Georgia Tech.


With the holidays approaching, “This year more than ever it’s important to keep your gatherings small and intimate,” Nesemeier said, and encouraged people to limit get-togethers to members of their households.

Individual actions can make a difference, Mahoney said. “The power is in the hands of the citizens and their decisions,” he said. “Please keep us safe.”

Desi Fleming, the director of Fargo Cass Public Health, missed Wednesday's briefing. Despite her best efforts at prevention, she caught the virus from a member of her household who contracted the contagion from community spread, Mahoney said.

"Please do what you can to protect yourself," Fleming said in a statement read by Mahoney. "This will end, but we still have challenging times ahead."

Fleming Desi 2020 Vosburg photo
Fargo Cass Public Health Director Desi Fleming takes part in a Red River Valley COVID-19 Task Force briefing on July 15 in Fargo City Hall. Forum file photo

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