A new mayoral order means Grand Forks bars can resume their normal business hours.

Mayor Brandon Bochenski on Tuesday, Sept. 15, signed an order that rescinds an earlier one requiring bars citywide to close by 11 p.m. each day to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus. The new order means bars here can once again stay open until 2 a.m., if they choose.

Bochenski pointed to a general downward trend in Grand Forks County COVID-19 statistics over the past two weeks, and data published each day by the North Dakota Department of Health bears that out: Active cases, the rate of new positives and the percentage of COVID tests that come back positive have all dropped precipitously since a peak in late August.

A gauge put together by Grand Forks Public Health workers still indicates that the virus presents a “high risk” in the county, but it has nosed closer and closer to a “moderate risk” status.

“Given the trends, I see this as a proper time to lift this restriction,” Bochenski is quoted as saying in a city news release.

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The now-rescinded order was aimed, more or less, at relatively young people, among whom the virus had quickly spread as University of North Dakota students returned to campus last month.

Michael Dulitz, an opioid response project coordinator at the health department who’s been pinch-hitting as a COVID data analyst, told the Herald it's tough to say definitively how much of the recent decline in local virus figures is the result of the bar restrictions. The university’s isolation and quarantine policy, plus a relatively quick turnaround on tests, played large roles, he said.

“It's hard looking at kind of a single isolated policy change within the context of everything else going on in the community,” Dulitz said Tuesday.

The mayor has the power to order bars and restaurants closed because the city is in a state of emergency that was first declared by Bochenski’s predecessor, Mike Brown, and has since been renewed four times by Grand Forks City Council members, most recently on Sept. 8. It's now in effect through the end of 2020.