Positive virus tests mount after North Dakota plant outbreak

Source: By Associated Press • Posted: Monday, April 20, 2020

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A coronavirus outbreak at a northeastern North Dakota wind turbine plant has ballooned to 110 cases in early testing and one city official said Saturday he expects a “prolonged battle” to control the spread.

An uptick in cases at the LM Wind Power facility in Grand Forks led to the drive-thru screening Thursday of 424 people, which included close contacts of infected workers, other household members and employees who have not shown symptoms, Gov. Doug Burgum said. All but 52 of those tests have been completed by the state lab.

“The good news is we’ve only had one hospitalization so far among LM Wind Power employees who have tested positive,” Burgum said.

Another mass testing will likely be held within a week, he said. There are nearly 900 employees at the facility and the governor said “it’s safe to assume” the outbreak “was widespread within the plant.”

Grand Forks Mayor Michael R. Brown said the city has planned and prepared for a major outbreak, but added it will take a group effort “so we don’t overwhelm” the healthcare system.

“We anticipate this to be a prolonged battle,” Brown said.

Burgum said he doesn’t think the outbreak could have been prevented because it’s a “highly contagious disease that is spread very easily” and clusters have popped up in places that have taken extreme precautions, such as nursing homes.

The governor added that LM Wind Power is considered a “critical manufacturing business” by the Department of Homeland Security and was not subject to any of his business closures, although he wouldn’t have shut it down anyway.

“We’re trying to get things back open. We’re not trying to close more things down,” Burgum said.

The governor has ordered all bars, restaurants, barber shops, beauty salons, health clubs, movie theaters and other large-scale venues closed at least until the end of month. He has not issued a general stay-at-home order as have been imposed in other states.

Burgum said LM Wind Power’s parent company, GE, has committed to keep the plant closed for a minimum of 14 days and continue to pay its employees. State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte has issued a quarantine order for those employees.

Grand Forks Director of Public Health Debbie Swanson said it’s important to emphasize why “this news is so significant” and why people need to follow guidelines to help stop the spread.

Health officials on Saturday reported 22 other new confirmed cases in addition to the 68 in Grand Forks County, for a total of 90. There have been no additional hospitalizations. The state has tested about 13,000 people since the first test was confirmed in early March.

Nine people have died from COVID-19 in North Dakota, with no new deaths reported Saturday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.