For now, COVID-19 — also known as Coronavirus — has changed much of America and the world. North Dakota hasn’t gone untouched— though we rank near the bottom in death rate from the virus.
But what if I told you that the President of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association believes new Americans may be responsible for an outbreak at Villa Maria nursing home in Fargo?
According to this report from yesterday, in answering how the virus got into the facility, President Shelley Peterson told Valley News Live:
“What’s unique about Fargo, and that’s different about the rest of the state, is that they have a great new American population and sometimes we see them living in larger households. And more people, that’s greater risks for exposure.”
As of yesterday, 33 of North Dakota’s 45 deaths (73%) happened in long term care facilities. Villa Maria leads the state in COVID-19 cases (52) and has been cited each year since 2016 for infection control problems. Their most recent citing came in February.
Make no mistake about it though, if meant as reported, Peterson’s comment is a bit shocking. For some, it may even come across as inflammatory. She might even be labeled as a “racist” for suggesting such a thing.
Why? For one, because the term “new American” is often used to describe refugees. As you can see on Lutheran Social Services website:
“New American Services works with the U.S. government to help refugees establish a home in North Dakota after they are approved for admittance into the country.”
North Dakota actually leads the nation in refugee resettlement per capita, with about 70% of refugees resettled in the Fargo area annually.
You might recall that refugee resettlement was a hot topic late last year. President Donald Trump had issued an Executive Order allowing states and counties some say in the matter. Governor Doug Burgum responded with a letter of approval to continue resettlement efforts in the state. The Burleigh County Commission considered halting resettlement in their county.
When the dust settled on a sometimes heated debate, Burleigh County voted 3 – 2 to continue. Not that it would’ve mattered. A federal judge later blocked Trump’s order anyhow.
So, with such a controversial issue still fresh in the minds of some, you can see how Peterson’s statement about Fargo’s “new American population” might once again raise some eyebrows.
Yet, there’s a number of questions to consider here.
What exactly did Peterson mean by the phrase “new American population”? Was it in reference to refugees or immigrants in general?
We’re certainly left wondering how she drew such a conclusion. Was the outbreak caused by employees who are new Americans? Were they visitors? Both?
What if her statement is true? What if new Americans were responsible for the outbreak? Is it even relevant? Or is Villa Maria’s failure to have an “infection and prevention control program in place” alone to blame?
In light of Peterson’s claim, one might wonder why Cass County (which includes Fargo) has ten times the cases of COVID as that of Burleigh County (which includes Bismarck)? (Note: Fargo’s population density is 2,603 people per square mile. Bismarck’s population density is 2,198.)
Perhaps there’s a discussion to be had here. Whether that can be done without delving into name calling remains to be seen.
Note: As a matter of comparison, according to yesterday’s numbers, 608 out of the 748 deaths (81%) attributed to COVID-19 in Minnesota have been at long-term care facilities.
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