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Masks no longer required at a majority of Grand Forks businesses

Hugo’s is one of the more prominent local businesses to begin allowing maskless shoppers at its locations, but other entities, including Altru Hospital, continue to have the requirement in place.

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This image is published by the Grand Forks Herald, via purchase from iStock images. (Credit: tumsasedgars)

While some Greater Grand Forks businesses have been allowing customers to come inside without a face covering for a few months, others are just making that move after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 13 relaxed its stance on masking in public.

Hugo’s Family Market Place dropped its facemask requirement last Thursday after the CDC announcement. The grocery store chain has been following the center’s recommendations since the beginning of the pandemic. Hugo’s is one of the more prominent local businesses to begin allowing maskless shoppers at its locations, but other entities, including Altru Hospital, continue to have the requirement in place.

“With the updated guidelines from the CDC on masking for vaccinated people, we changed our policy to be in line with this,” said Lisa Swanson, communications director for Hugo’s. “We are pleased with the vaccination rollout in our communities and happy that all people are able to be vaccinated if they wish.”

Hugo’s has long had online shopping available at some of its locations, and it added stores in East Grand Forks and on 13th Avenue North in Grand Forks to its online shopping platform at the start of the pandemic. Swanson said stores will keep offering those services as the region continues to adjust to the pandemic’s slow decline.

Hugo’s beat a few other businesses to the draw in rescinding its mask requirement last Thursday. A day later, Walmart announced masks are no longer necessary to shoppers and employees who are fully vaccinated, and on Monday, May 17, Target followed suit.

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“Given the CDC’s updated guidance last week, Target will no longer require fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it’s required by local ordinances,” Target's Minneapolis headquarters announced Monday. “Face coverings will continue to be strongly recommended for guests and team members who are not fully vaccinated and we’ll continue our increased safety and cleaning measures, including social distancing, throughout our stores.”

An employee at Menards told the Herald the store's mask order was gone, but the company’s website hasn’t yet been updated to reflect that. According to an online statement from John Furner, Walmart’s president and CEO, the company is offering a $75 bonus to employees to get the vaccine.

“We’re encouraging all associates to get vaccinated and help end this pandemic,” reads a portion of Furner’s statement. “Do it for your health, your family, your friends, your community and your country – let’s help reach our national vaccination goals by the Fourth of July.”

The large retailers are a few months behind locally-owned businesses like Scheels, which dropped its mask requirement around the time Grand Forks County’s mask rule was rescinded in early March.

An employee at downtown bar Bonzer’s said the establishment hadn’t required masks for “a while,” and the same goes for The Hub, another downtown dining and drinking establishment.

But not all entities are going mask-free, notably UND and Altru Hospital. UND requires people on campus to wear masks when interacting with others, though David Dodds, communications director there, said university officials are constantly monitoring the situation. At the hospital, masks for patients, staff and visitors are still required, because relaxed CDC guidelines don’t extend to health care settings.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz lifted the state mask mandate on Friday, a day after the CDC released its new guidelines. It was good news for Justin LaRocque, owner of The Spud Jr., on DeMers Avenue in East Grand Forks. LaRocque said he had recently acquired a location adjacent to his business, and has plans to add an event space there.

LaRocque said mask compliance hasn’t been much of an issue, as people had mostly become used to wearing them. He sounded positive about the future for his business, but was still wary of a curveball that could reinstate pandemic regulations.

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“Obviously this is further than we've got at any point in the year,” LaRocque said. “You just hope it continues going well, and everything that we're doing works.”

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