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New programs launched with federal coronavirus aid; more testing planned in Bismarck

New programs launched with federal coronavirus aid; more testing planned in Bismarck

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North Dakota's Department of Commerce is launching a program aimed at helping businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the state Department of Agriculture is expanding an effort to aid meat processing plants and seeking proposals for research into the COVID-19 disease.

All three efforts are being funded through $400 million in federal coronavirus aid recently approved by the state Emergency Commission and the Legislature's Budget Section. The amount is part of $1.25 billion that North Dakota is getting through the federal CARES Act economic rescue package.

The developments come as the state Department of Health on Friday reported 29 new coronavirus cases, raising the state total to 3,421, with 3,090 people recovered and 78 deaths. A total of 222 people have been hospitalized during the pandemic; 23 remain so. Active cases are at 253, up two from the previous day.

New cases

Coronavirus in North Dakota Active

New COVID-19 cases were reported in a dozen counties for the second consecutive day. The tally included six more cases in Burleigh County and an additional one in Morton County. There are 47 active cases in Burleigh and five in Morton, a cumulative increase of five from the previous day.

Other new cases were reported in the counties of Cass, Grand Forks, Hettinger, Mountrail, Sargent, Sioux, Stark, Stutsman, Ward and Williams. No new deaths were reported Friday.

For more information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Testing developments

The number of North Dakotans tested at least once has surpassed 100,000, rising to 100,886; total tests number 169,838.

Recent testing in Minot resulted in 10 contracted workers at a city construction site turning up positive for COVID-19, according to Interim City Manager David Lakefield. The crew members have been isolated and the site shut down for cleaning and additional testing. The workers are from various counties. First District Health Unit is conducting contact tracing.  

Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health this week launched weekly testing for anyone who wants it. A total of 662 people were tested Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A total of 13 people had tested positive with one test still pending Friday. 

“We initially estimated that our testing events would be smaller with less than 100 people per day since there are other testing options in the community and these events were scheduled for just an hour and a half," Public Health Director Renae Moch said. "But the turnout for all three days surpassed our expectations, proving there’s definitely a demand for COVID-19 testing in this community.” 

Next week's testing will be Monday and Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There will be no testing Wednesday because of a mass testing event planned by the state that day.

The Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health testing is at 500 E. Front Ave. in Bismarck. People are asked to enter the agency's parking lot from Front Avenue and exit the parking lot to the west via Fifth Street. For those unable to use a vehicle, walk-up testing is available near the east building entrance.

Online registration will be offered beginning next week to expedite the testing, though it is not required. People who want to preregister for Monday can go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/covid-19-testing-event-tickets-111076751554. For Tuesday, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/covid-19-testing-event-tickets-111084526810. People should not go to the state health department link that's for preregistering for state mass testing events. 

“We have had some individuals arrive at our testing events, thinking they could use the state’s preregistration links for our testing site, but that is not the case," Moch said. "We currently do not have access to that system.”   

New programs

The $69 million Economic Resiliency Grant Program developed by Commerce will dole out grants of up to $50,000 to help businesses implement measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19. A company with multiple locations can apply for up to $100,000.

The goal is twofold -- to get back customers lost during the pandemic and to reduce the burden on the unemployment insurance system by getting people back to work in a safe environment. Grants can be used for such things as buying protective equipment and supplies to minimize contact between workers and customers.

Expenses allowed under the program did not previously qualify under either the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program or the Paycheck Protection Program.

“The purpose of the grant is to provide businesses one-time funding to increase customer and employee safety through improved infection control, with the ultimate purpose of inspiring consumers to return to the marketplace," Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer said. "A safe return of customers to marketplace is the best and most sustainable way to stimulate the economy.”

Commerce expects to open the application process July 24. Applications will be considered on a first-come, first served basis. More details will be posted soon to Commerce’s website, at https://commerce.nd.gov/.

The Department of Agriculture is using $2.7 million to expand the North Dakota Meat Processing Plant Cost-Share Program, which it started in May with $1.3 million in federal money to help plants upgrade facilities and equipment to meet an increased demand for meat during the pandemic.

The program reimburses plants a portion of expenses dependent on the total amount of eligible applications that are approved. The initial $1.3 million has been contracted but not yet paid out, according to department spokeswoman Michelle Mielke. The money is going to 46 facilities.

The new round of funding adds eligibility for federally inspected meat processing plants in the state.

“The pandemic caused supply chain impacts in the meat processing industry and this funding will bring more processing capability to the state,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “The additional funding will help even more plants upgrade facilities and equipment to create efficiencies that will allow them to increase capacity and ultimately will increase the local availability of meat.”

For more information, contact Bradley Dean, agricultural development specialist, at 701-955-0181 or bdean@nd.gov.  

The agriculture department also has received state approval for $5 million in funding for coronavirus research, and is seeking proposals.

“Any eligible bioscience company in the state is encouraged to apply,” Goehring said.

Eligible applicants are companies that can help develop technologies to benefit coronavirus research, virus screening technologies, antibody therapies, immunotherapies and sanitation technologies. Companies are limited to a maximum grant of $1.5 million and must have at least 25% matching funds.

More information and an application template can be found at https://www.nd.gov/ndda/cares-act-north-dakota-bioscience-grant-program. Applications must be submitted in electronic form by 5 p.m. CDT July 6. All work must be completed by Dec. 15.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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