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4 things to know about the COVID-19 vaccine
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A second vaccine was approved by the FDA last week to fight COVID-19, and doses of the second drug have already started making their way to North Dakota.

As the vaccination process gets underway, here are some things you need to know.

1 Two drugs OK’d so far

Vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna have been OK’d by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both of the drugs showed effectiveness of 90% or more in clinical trials, and both require two doses. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart, for the Moderna vaccine it’s two doses 28 days apart. Two other vaccines are also in clinical trials — one of them requires just one dose while the other requires two.

2 Vaccinations already starting

The Pfizer vaccine was approved earlier this month and the first does arrived in North Dakota last week. As of Sunday, Dec. 20, there had been 6,098 doses administered — all of the Pfizer vaccine. There have been a little more than 9,000 doses received so far — 6,825 from Pfizer and 2,200 of the Moderna vaccine. So far, the state has been allocated 11,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 13,200 of the Moderna vaccine, for a total of 24,900 doses.

3 Who can be vaccinated?

Because there is a limited supply of vaccine available, the focus is on first vaccinating health care workers and then residents of long-term care facilities. The very first in line for the vaccine include ER staff and doctors, infectious disease specialists, nurses, anesthesia staff, primary care doctors, people who vill give out vaccines and first responders, including Emergency Medical Services workers. Residents and staff at long-term care centers will be in the next tier, along with home health workers, oral surgeons and others. As more vaccine becomes available, more providers will offer vaccination and announcements about the next priority levels will be announced.

4 Why does the CDC recommend still wearing a mask and avoiding contact with others, even after getting both doses of a vaccine?

There was surprise when the CDC announced that it would still recommend people who have been vaccinated wear a mask and keep their distance from others. Like many vaccines, the drugs created to battle COVID-19 create an autoimmune response but they might still allow the virus to pass from one person to another. Before the mask recommendation changes, more study is needed.

“While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, and staying at least 6 feet away from others,” the CDC wrote on its website. “Together, COVID-19 vaccination and following CDC’s recommendations for how to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from getting and spreading COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.”

Montana author remembers the inspiration for 'Uncle Santa and the Magic Hot Chocolate,' a children's book series
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It has the makings of a Christmas classic — one of Santa’s helpers meets a family and, nearly a year later, gets an unexpected call.

That actually happened to Lisa Dunn and her husband, Mike, and it was part of the inspiration for a series of children’s books she’s writing based around the character “Uncle Santa.”

The whole story started in 2009, when Mike Dunn announced he wanted to play Santa for the children enrolled in the family’s daycare in Wolf Point, Montana. Lisa Dunn set up an appointment with a hairstylist friend, and when the dyeing was finished, the resemblance to Santa Claus was uncanny.

That weekend, the couple were at Walmart in Williston, and while Mike Dunn was sitting on a bench, families started approaching him. He didn’t have a Santa suit on, but he was wearing the hat.

Lisa Dunn had printed some business cards for him, and they included the family’s phone number. He’d handed them out at Walmart that day, but no one expected what happened next.

In early December 2010, the Dunns’ phone rang and the caller asked if it was Mrs. Claus.

“I immediately knew I had to say yes,” she said.

She passed the phone to her husband, who spoke with the kids for a bit.

They never heard from the family again. Even after 10 years, when the two kids would be in their late teens and early 20s now, the story has stuck with Lisa Dunn. It was such a powerful memory that it’s even been the inspiration for part of a series of books about a character based on her husband.

To make sure they didn’t contradict anything parents were telling the kids in their daycare, they developed a backstory. The kids already know Mike Dunn — he’s around five days a week.

The story is that Mike Dunn is one of Santa’s helpers and that each year, he drinks magic hot chocolate that turns him into “Uncle Santa.”

Lisa Dunn thought this story would make a wonderful book series, but there was a problem — where did it begin?

Then she remembered the story her husband had told about his experience a Walmart. That, along with the explanation of his transformation, became the first book of the series “Uncle Santa & the Magic Hot Chocolate.”

The call the next year became the basis for the second, in which a father reaches out to Uncle Santa for help reminding his children to be kind to one another.

The third book is being published in July and Lisa Dunn is working on a fourth. She hopes to eventually have 12 to 15 books in the series, full of both Christmas cheer and important lessons.

She has ideas for the next several books, and thinks publishing one a year is reasonable.

One thing Lisa and Mike Dunn hope is that they can eventually find the family that called all those years ago.

She put the story out on Facebook and while it sounded familiar to a few people, they are still on the lookout.

“I would really, really like to find them,” Lisa Dunn said.

The Uncle Santa books are available online from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but Lisa Dunn said there have been issues with Amazon’s print on demand service. She also has autographed copies — they’re signed by her as the author and by Uncle Santa — for sale herself.

For information about the Uncle Santa books, or if you’re the family that spoke with Uncle Santa back in 2010, call 406-653-3147.

What's next for school reorganization?
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The two school districts that serve Williston were scheduled to meet Tuesday, Dec. 22, to finalize the school board election held Dec. 16.

The boards for both Williston Public School District No. 1 and Williams County Public School District No. 8 will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for the final canvass. A reorganization plan that merges the two districts was approved Dec. 8.

The new board is made up of current members of both boards. From District 1, board President Thomas Kalil, board Vice President Heather Wheeler and board member Cory Swint won at-large seats. From District 8, board President Chris Jundt and board member John Kasmer won at-large seats while board Vice President Kyle Renner and board member Sarah Williams won the two seats reserved for board members who live outside Williston city limits.

The new school district will officially open July 1.

Before then, the new school board is responsible for negotiating teacher contracts for the new district. Members of both boards and administrators from both districts have said they expect to have the same number of teachers as the two districts combined.

Even still, because the current districts are closing, every teacher will get a notice of non-renewal.

The board for the reorganized district is supposed to notify every teacher employed in the existing districts whether they will be offered contracts by April 15. If, for some reason, there isn’t a negotiated agreement in place by July 1, no teacher can make less than they did the year before.

The new board has another major responsibility to handle — laying out the curriculum, course offerings and expected positions available for the public.

The new board has to hold a hearing where that information is presented by Feb. 1.

While the new board has some work before the new district opens, the existing districts will still continue to operate. Because the reorganization plan was approved, both boards now have limits on what they can do.

For example, neither board can enter into a new contract or renew an existing one without written approval from the other. The same is true for purchases of more than $3,000.

Airport businesses decorate trees for XWA contest
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The halls at Williston Basin International Airport are decked out for Christmas, and the public is invited to come out and take a peek.

The airport is hosting a Christmas Tree decorating contest for the businesses that operate within the facility. Ten trees are lined up along the commercial terminal's windows, decorated in a variety of classic, and comedic styles. From the traditional red and green decor to Paramount Building Solution's pandemic-inspired tree, adorned with facemasks, toilet paper and featuring tiny Clorox Wipes, Lysol spray and hand sanitizer ornaments. The trees are on display throughout the month, inviting the public to vote for their favorite tree.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to implement,” Airport Director Anthony Dudas told the Williston Herald. “We had a lot of support from the businesses that operate at XWA, and everybody was really enthusiastic about being able to get into that Christmas Spirit and have this competition and see who’s got the best decorating skills.”

Dudas encourages the public to stop out to XWA and take advantage of the airport’s free hour of parking and see the trees close up for themselves. While there, visitors can utilize the airport’s XWA PASS program to visit the, restaurant and lounge, store, gaming area and children’s play area. Applications for the PASS program can be found online at http://bit.ly/XWAPASS, but Dudas noted that guests can apply for the pass on-site as well.

Votes can be cast on Facebook at www.facebook.com/flywillistonXWA, by visiting XWA’s website at www.flywilliston.net or by stopping out in person and scanning the tree’s QR code.

Free ebooks and audiobooks available through the North Dakota State Library
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The North Dakota State Library recently transitioned its digital collection from RBdigital to OverDrive as a member of the North Dakota Digital Library Consortium. North Dakota residents with State Library cards can now browse, borrow, and read a greater selection of ebooks and audiobooks through the Libby reading app for free.

“The State Library is looking forward to partnering with the Library2Go consortium and OverDrive,” says State Librarian Mary Soucie. “We believe this is the best solution to provide a wide variety of ebooks in multiple formats as well as e-magazines to North Dakota citizens. Having one collection instead of two will make access easier for patrons.”

The Libby app is compatible with all major computers and devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, and Chromebook. All titles will automatically expire at the end of the lending period, so there are no late fees or fines. Items can be downloaded for offline use.

To get started enjoying ebooks, audiobooks, and more, visit https://ndlibrary2go.overdrive.com or download the Libby app.

Need a State Library card? Fill out the online card application at library.nd.gov/librarycard.html, and a library card will be sent to you through the mail.