Media reports nationwide point to COVID-19 outbreaks that can be traced to bars, many of which are located in college communities.
CBS News reported that 90% of the cases in a recent outbreak in the Lawrence, Kan., area were among people ages 18-24. Many had spent time at one particular local hangout. In East Lansing, Mich., approximately 140 cases were linked to a bar near Michigan State University.
Meanwhile, Grand Forks County has seen a dramatic spike in cases in the days since college students returned for the fall semester. The county saw 110 new positive cases on Aug. 25 alone and quickly became the state leader in active COVID-19 cases. Many were among young adults.
Michael Dulitz, of Grand Forks Public Health, said upwards of 75% of the increase is the result of UND students returning to campus. And in response, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski ordered bars to close by 11 p.m.
The right decision?
Absolutely, and for two reasons.
First, data continues to grow about the spread of coronavirus at close-contact places like bars, where patrons must take down their face mask to drink and where social distancing efforts disintegrate in the later hours of the evening.
Nationwide, it’s such a problem that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top contagious disease expert, said that “congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news.”
For the sake of public health, Bochenski had to do something to try to stop the spread.
Meanwhile, Bochenski was right on another count: By closing the bars at 11, he is eliminating what probably is the witching hour of social distancing breakdown, while still allowing bars to remain open. That’s important, since we believe bars and restaurants must be able to conduct their business -- albeit with mask and social distancing standards in place -- for the sake of the local economy and for their own financial needs.
As Bochenski’s order was going into place, the mayor spent the day calling bar owners to discuss his plans and to seek their input before it became official.
That was a prudent path and one that displayed an air of collaboration. Bar owners obviously are not happy, but the good -- if there is any here -- is that they can remain open to conduct business and try to salvage something resembling a profit.
Grand Forks County’s COVID-19 numbers are alarming, and the increase cannot be shrugged off. Action is required to fend off an even larger outbreak.
Some want a mask mandate; perhaps that would be wise.
But until then, the community must stay the course on testing -- there have been at least a dozen communitywide testing events, possibly boosting the county’s state ranking in positive cases -- and the city must also consider any difficult decisions that, unfortunately, limit where people can gather.
Grand Forks, like many other places in the nation, now has a so-called “closing time” mandate. Unfortunately, bars have been targeted, apparently not due to local malfeasance but instead due to simple data and COVID trends.
It seems a logical consolation to what could be a stricter, and less business-friendly, alternative.