Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski is urging business owners to follow changes made to the state’s Smart Restart guidelines, which reduce occupancy limits at all places of business. Failure to follow the guidelines may lead to their enforcement.

The new guidelines, which went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, reduce occupancy limits to 50% of the rated room capacity, with a cap of 100 people, in counties designated to be in the “yellow,” or moderate risk level on the state’s color-coded chart. This is down from the previous cap of 250. The new guidelines also encourage businesses to require face coverings. Gov. Doug Burgum made the changes earlier in the week, when he announced 16 counties were moving in the "orange" high risk level.

Bochenski made his appeal to business owners to follow the guidelines in an Oct. 16 letter to the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber, which distributed the letter to its members.

“With active case numbers trending up in Grand Forks County and throughout the state of North Dakota, it is imperative we take steps to protect our community, especially our vulnerable populations,” Bochenski wrote in the letter.

Bochenski noted the updates to the North Dakota Smart Restart Guidelines are recommendations, but he urged business owners to follow the guidelines as closely as possible.

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“Further disregard,” he wrote, “may lead to the necessary enforcement.”

Bochenski went on to encourage the use of safe business practices, including the reduced occupancy limits, as well as social distancing, face covers for employees and customers, and proper hygiene practices. He called on business owners to familiarize themselves with the Smart Restart Guidelines, as well as a workplace assessment tool to help employers develop COVID-19 mitigation policies.

The mayor acknowledged the burdens placed on business owners not only by the guidelines, but by the pandemic that necessitates their use: “I recognize this considerably impacts your livelihoods and this is a very strenuous time for all of you,” he wrote. “I am empathetic to the difficult circumstances you are in.”

Bochenski’s letter to business owners comes after he signed a letter to the editor urging state residents to more vigilantly follow COVID-19 safety protocols, including mask wearing. The Oct. 14 letter was signed by Bochenski, as well as Steve Bakken, mayor of Bismarck; Tim Mahoney, mayor of Fargo; Shaun Sipma, mayor of Minot and Bernie Dardis, mayor of West Fargo.