Burgum: State, local response teams work quickly to contain COVID-19 outbreak at Grand Forks facility

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BISMARCK, N.D. – A rapid response team that conducted testing Thursday at the LM Wind Power manufacturing plant in Grand Forks has confirmed 88 additional cases of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, Gov. Doug Burgum said today.

The rapid response team, a collaboration of the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH), North Dakota National Guard, Grand Forks Public Health and other local partners, tested 426 people at the plant on Thursday, one day after the company closed the plant after eight employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Of the 426 tests, 374 had been completed by this afternoon, with results confirming 88 positive cases. An additional 22 cases were confirmed outside of Thursday’s testing event, bringing the total to 110 confirmed cases in employees and their close contacts. The final 52 tests collected during Thursday’s testing event will be completed this evening. Additional testing efforts are planned for next week.

“By responding swiftly to localized outbreaks and using targeted testing, we can quickly identify individuals with COVID-19 and begin the contact tracing process to prevent the disease from spreading further,” Burgum said. “While this process worked as designed in Grand Forks and last weekend in Mountrail County, we will continue to build out our response capabilities, testing capacity and contact tracing to slow the spread and save lives and livelihoods.”

State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte today issued a quarantine order directing LM Wind Power employees to quarantine for 14 days starting April 16. Individual employees must remain in their homes or places of residence unless otherwise authorized by the NDDoH; cooperate with local and state health officers and participate in contact tracing efforts; and contact their health care provider if COVID-19 symptoms occur, such as fever or cough.

“Quarantine is necessary and the least restrictive alternative to protect and preserve public health,” Tufte said. “As COVID-19 continues to spread across North Dakota, staying home as much as possible continues to be one of the best ways to reduce your exposure to the coronavirus.”

LM Wind Power’s parent company, GE, said it has temporarily closed the Grand Forks facility for at least two weeks to conduct an extensive disinfection process while also continuing to pay employees as usual during this period. The company also has asked employees to stay home during that time.

Of the 110 confirmed cases associated with the outbreak, one person has been hospitalized, bringing the state’s total number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to 13. The state is working closely with the City of Grand Forks, Grand Forks Public Health and Altru Health System in Grand Forks to complete contract tracing and additional testing and ensure adequate hospital capacity is available for COVID-19 patients.

“We were hoping to avoid something like this, but we’ve planned and prepared for it,” Grand Forks Mayor Dr. Michael R. Brown said. “We’ve identified and are isolating the problem and are doing everything we can to mitigate the spread so we don’t overwhelm our health care system.”

“The results of this event have greatly increased the total cases in Grand Forks in a short period of time,” said Dr. Steven Weiser, president of Altru Health System. “While Altru has a very strong plan in place to accommodate a surge in our hospital, it is more imperative than ever for the citizens of our community to adhere to the expectations put forth by our public health officials. Now is the time to slow the spread of this virus.”

Earlier this week, Burgum outlined the state’s finalized hospital surge plan, under which hospitals can use existing space and additional resources from the state to make additional beds available for COVID-19 patients if needed.

As a manufacturer of rotor blades for wind turbines, the LM Wind Power plant is considered a critical manufacturing business by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is not subject to any of the business closures ordered by the governor during the COVID-19 emergency, Burgum noted. The NDDoH has issued guidance for critical infrastructure workers and businesses.

The NDDoH today confirmed 90 additional cases of COVID-19 – the highest single-day total to date and nearly double Friday’s count of 46 cases. The state has reported a total of 528 confirmed cases, with 336 active cases, 183 recovered, nine deaths and 13 currently hospitalized. A total of 12,963 tests have been completed.

“As the number of positive COVID-19 cases in North Dakota continues to rise sharply, we urge all North Dakotans to practice physical distancing, avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, implement proper safeguards in their workplaces and be #NDSmart by following state and CDC guidelines. Stay home, stay healthy, and stay connected,” Burgum said.

For more information on the state’s COVID-19 response, visit www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus or www.ndresponse.gov.

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