Gov. Doug Burgum says North Dakota businesses can reopen Friday if the state continues to see a low rate of positive tests for COVID-19. To us, it seems early by a week or two, but we appreciate the governor’s measured approach to the decision.
His plan is to let expire an executive order that initiated the restrictions, which included places people congregate for things like recreation, entertainment, hair care, food and drinks. The order will be replaced with one that allows those businesses to reopen, but with operating guidelines.
In restaurants, for instance, capacity will be limited to 50%, with six feet of spacing between groups. Waiting areas must adhere to distancing standards. In bars, standing will not be allowed. The list of guidelines is long.
The governor is calling for a “smart restart” and said his decision is based on various criteria, including hospital capacity, testing capabilities and improvements in the state’s contact tracing protocols. He stresses that active cases have declined in the state and only 25 people are hospitalized, meaning there is not a shortage of availability. Most counties do not have a coronavirus case.
Yet Grand Forks County remains among the state’s hot spots for the outbreak, and that’s troubling.
We sympathize with the businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic. We’re one of them.
Meanwhile, we worry that reopening too soon could cause a rise in local numbers. Grand Forks is home to large manufacturers, including LM Wind Power, which has seen more than 100 cases in recent weeks. Two others – Simplot and the North Dakota Mill – also have had at least one positive case each. Although neither has seen an outbreak, it’s still possible the county could see multiple new cases in the coming days.
A week ago, we used this space to say the time to reopen is drawing near, but urged a slower approach. Somewhere, we said, there is a middle ground between those calling for a swift reopening and those believing we should stay sequestered into the summer.
Time will tell if Burgum’s decision is the right one.
In the meantime, we urge businesses to strictly adhere to the guidelines laid out by the governor. Many have been doing it already.
A good example recently was witnessed at L&M Meats, a Grand Forks butcher shop and retailer. All workers there on Saturday were in masks; at a checkout line, customers (many of whom also wore masks) stayed six feet apart. When it came time to sign a receipt, a worker in gloves first cleaned the pen before handing it to customers. That’s the way to do it.
Many people won’t venture out much in the coming weeks, even with the governor’s decision. For those who do go out, and for those businesses that invite people in, please be smart.