Grand Forks city leaders to consider further COVID precautions tonight

Michael Dulitz, of the Grand Forks Public Health Department, gives a pandemic update to the City Council during during a meeting in October 2020. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks staff and officials are set to meet tonight to consider COVID prevention policies beyond the mask mandate they enacted late last month.

A special city council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at Grand Forks City Hall. There, city leaders are scheduled to review what they’ve done so far: mayoral orders and a mandate, plus Altru Health System’s beds and staffing , the health officer’s dashboard and Gov. Doug Burgum’s Smart Restart guidelines.

But the big agenda item is “consideration of further Grand Forks orders.” Even if they’re not implemented tonight, that could ultimately mean further city policies intended to slow the virus, which has spread nearly exponentially throughout Grand Forks County in the past month.

“I will be deeply disappointed if we leave that meeting and nothing has been changed,” City Council member Bret Weber told the Herald on Wednesday night. "My hope is to go in and encourage public health officers to speak in as frank and open a manner as possible, and then to act on their recommendations with all possible haste. And that we stop playing political games with this and not try to guess who's going to be happy, who's going to be angry, and we move forward with the best advice."

Beyond council resolutions, city staff said meeting attendees are set to review further potential orders from Mayor Brandon Bochenski and Grand Forks County Health Officer Joel Walz. Those orders were still in the works on Thursday morning, according to City Administrator Todd Feland, but could ultimately include a countywide mask mandate and orders that put oomph behind Burgum’s recommendations for businesses.


Tonight’s meeting stems from a lengthy back and forth on Monday, when council members pushed hard to put further preventative policies in place with advice from city and county public health experts. Council member Jeannie Mock suggested tying bars and restaurants’ liquor licenses to their compliance with Burgum’s otherwise-unenforced COVID-19 recommendations, which would mean the city could ding those businesses for not following the recommendations in the same way it can when they, for instance, serve alcohol to an underage patron.

“We have a strong desire to keep businesses open, to keep schools open, to keep the economy running,” Council member Ken Vein said Monday. “And we have to put certain rules, regulations, or whatever, in effect to make sure that that happens because the downside is that we have to all get locked down and closed again, and none of us want to do that. We did a great first step when we required masks.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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