East Grand Forks’ mayor thanked the workers who administered the city’s most recent round of COVID-19 business relief, plus other administrators grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Mayor Steve Gander said at a City Council meeting on Tuesday. The aid, he later told the Herald, generally coincides with further restrictions on Minnesota businesses last week that Gander expects will mean deeper revenue losses: 10 p.m. closing times for bars and restaurants, plus attendance limits for weddings, funerals and other social gatherings. Yet more restrictions are expected later this week.

"Quite a few sectors of our economy now operate at a loss every week and every month," Gander said. "And they do it willingly to provide a service, they do it willingly make payroll for their people. And frankly, if they were not in operation, the losses would be mounting way more quickly."

City officials last week approved $421,000 worth of aid to 36 East Grand Forks businesses, which are set to use it to reimburse themselves for additional protective equipment they bought at the outset of the pandemic, or offset up to a third of the revenue they lost as the virus caused the regional and national economies to falter, or both.

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Eastside businesses collectively asked for about $2 million worth of aid, a figure that Economic Development Director Paul Gorte characterized as the tip of a metaphorical iceberg. The most recent round of business payments is the second the city has given out, and the money for it comes from the multi-trillion-dollar federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Gander on Tuesday also had kind words for human resources workers who, he said, don’t get enough credit as they struggle to keep staff at work during the pandemic.

“How do you keep a team on the field in the middle of all this?” Gander said. “Hats off to everybody that has an HR function at this time and during this crisis.”

In a similar vein, Gander urged residents to follow COVID precautions and state-mandated restrictions as hospitals on both sides of the Red River push – or, sometimes, exceed – the limits of their staffs and available beds. Those measures can help hospitals avoid rationing care, he told the Herald.

“One of our objectives in all of this was to make sure that everyone had access to full and complete health care as needed. We talk about ICU beds, but what’s an ICU bed? Sure enough, it’s a bed, but it’s people. It’s doctors and nurses and housekeeping and nurses' aides and it’s everybody that keeps that patient able to function while receiving high levels of medical care,” he said. “The number of cases are close to overwhelming that health care system. We’re not going to let that happen.”

The merits of the large-scale lockdowns that marked the beginning of the pandemic can be up for debate, Gander said.

“But this one’s for real,” he said. “We’re not going to have anyone suffer and die because of an inability to get full and complete state-of-the-art medical care. So, however reluctant we may have been up to now to embrace some of these restrictions ... this is the time to dial it down, this is the time to really be mindful.”