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County rescinds building openings

Positive COVID tests raise concerns

Ward County has rescinded a previously announced opening of the county administration building and jail. The reason? Several employees have tested positive for coronavirus.

The county had previously announced they would re-open the two buildings on Tuesday, May 26, the day after Memorial Day. However, during a special meeting of the Ward County Commission Thursday morning, that decision was reversed. Both facilities have been closed to the public since March 23 due to coronavirus concerns.

Targeted testing for coronavirus was conducted earlier this week at the Sheriff’s Office and jail. Some, but not all, of those test results came back Wednesday. Those tests revealed six positives among jail staff and three positive tests in the Sheriff’s Office. Ward County Human Resources Director Tammy Terras said all those who tested positive did not have any symptoms and all have been quarantined.

The county was expected to receive additional test results late Thursday.

The positive test results reported Wednesday were enough to cause county commissioners to rethink the scheduled reopening of the two buildings. They passed a motion to revisit the issue at their next meeting, June 2, at which time additional coronavirus test results should be available.

“We have no definite opening plan. It will be reviewed at that next meeting,” said John Fjeldahl, commission chairman.

Terras said the county has requested that First District Health Unit conduct a second phase of testing next Friday for those Sheriff’s Office employees who were not tested this week and for jail inmates. Fjeldahl said a request to test employees in the administration building, including the auditors office, will likely be made as well.

Commissioner Alan Walter stated, “I don’t want to delay a decision for two weeks at a time. I want to have this report earlier than two weeks.”

In making a motion to delay any decision making on re-opening the two facilities to the public until at least June 2, Commissioner Shelly Weppler reminded commissioners that the testing process will likely take up to two weeks to complete, adding, “We don’t really know the entire scope of what we are looking at. Until we do we can’t fully understand the scope of this.”

Results of the tests could have an impact on the June 9 primary election, which is conducted though the auditor’s office. Those employees are not designated as essential, meaning they would be subject to a 14-day quarantine if they test positive for coronavirus. If that occurs it would leave a serious shortage of personnel at election time.

Fjeldahl said he would be contacting Gov. Doug Burgum’s office for clarification as to whether or not election personnel should be considered “essential.”

Late Thursday morning the State Health Department reported an additional 24 positive tests for coronavirus in Ward County, bringing the county total to 53. Only 8 positive tests had been reported in Ward County in the previous 40 days.

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