The relationship between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks is strong. For instance, the cities share certain amenities, including public transportation and wastewater infrastructure.
But the two communities operate under different state and local governments, which means one town may benefit or lose based on a decision made in the other.
When Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski declared last month that Grand Forks bars must close by 11 p.m. in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, it seemed a logical mitigation effort. After all, as we noted shortly after the executive order went into place, it’s possible social distancing becomes less effective as closing time nears. Plus, coronavirus cases were rising sharply, probably boosted by the return of UND’s student body.
What we didn’t envision was an exodus from Grand Forks as bar-goers finished their drinks and then crossed the Sorlie Bridge on foot to continue their night on the Minnesota – and East Grand Forks – side of the River.
Was it happening every night? We don’t know.
Were pedestrians crossing the bridge late at night for some other reason? Again, we don’t know.
But evidence seems to suggest they were moving from town to town to sidestep the mayor’s early closure order.
Last week, Bochenski rescinded his earlier executive order. It means bars can resume normal hours, closing as late as 2 a.m.
Officially, the reasoning behind the latest decision is that COVID-19 numbers – which a few weeks ago were sprinting upward – have generally stabilized in Grand Forks County. On Aug. 15, there had been a total of 775 COVID-19 cases in the county. That number rose dramatically in late August and early September, reaching 980 cases on Aug. 22, 1,444 cases on Aug. 29 and 1,729 cases on Sept. 5.
By Sept. 12, the number had risen to 1,887 – still an increase, but not nearly as significant as in the previous weeks.
So yes, it seems the increase has slowed, and the flatter curve means there can be a return to relative normalcy in Grand Forks businesses.
But as Grand Forks bars followed the mayor’s order, it appears some patrons discovered a workaround. A Facebook video posted early this month showed dozens of people crossing the Sorlie Bridge in the dark of the evening. Not all bars in East Grand Forks are open that late, but those with a 2 a.m. license can operate until that time. It’s nothing illegal or even remotely wrong. It’s just a quirk of Greater Grand Forks’ geography and one that was proving unfair to Grand Forks bar owners.
We still believe the theory behind the mayor’s order was a good one. The process the mayor used – discussing the early closing hours with bar owners before the order was signed – showed an air of collaboration and diplomacy.
But the flatter curve means it was time to rescind the order. Plus, the plan was hindered by different rules in separate communities, and by some late-night revelers’ aloof attitude about coronavirus and its spread in Grand Forks County.