As North Dakota avoids a stay-at-home order, will Fargo area leaders issue their own?

West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, from left, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Cass County Commission Chairman Chad Peterson sign spring flood emergency declarations Feb. 27 at Fago City Hall. Forum file photo

FARGO — With confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbing in Cass County, area leaders aren’t ready to break away from North Dakota's governor and issue independent emergency orders that would require local residents to stay home.

But they could, said West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, adding that he wouldn’t act without his city commission's full support.

Dardis said "the authority does lie within our commission" to issue a citywide stay-at-home order because of the emergency proclamation the city issued in March.

As for Fargo, Mayor Tim Mahoney declined to comment Monday, April 6, on his stance about declaring a stay-at-home order, adding that an announcement will be made Tuesday, April 7.

Monday’s jump of 11 coronavirus cases in Cass County was its biggest one-day increase to date, bringing the total to 65, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.


Clay County added six cases Monday — also its biggest one-day increase so far — for a total of 19 cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Gov. Tim Walz has issued a stay-at-home order for Minnesota residents from March 27 to April 10, while North Dakota is one of a handful of states that have not taken a similar step.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said such restrictions are not yet needed. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said states without stay-at-home orders are putting themselves at risk.

“I want to be clear for those who are suggesting we are not doing enough to make no mistake: I will use every tool at my disposal as governor to protect the lives and safety of North Dakotans. But I am only going to use those tools if it makes sense and when it makes sense,” Burgum said Friday, April 3, during a news conference.

With a total of 225 coronavirus cases and four deaths across North Dakota, an online petition asking Burgum to enforce a shelter-in-place policy had received over 4,100 signatures as of Monday evening.

About three weeks ago, the state government closed schools and later some businesses, and issued guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include keeping a distance from other people and avoiding crowds of more than 10. North Dakota has more than 2,600 hospital beds available, with 19 patients currently hospitalized, according to state officials.

Burgum issued Monday two additional executive orders. The first requires anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for no less than 14 days, and all family members living with someone with COVID-19 must also be quarantined for the same time period. The second order suspended visitation to long-term care facilities, except in cases of end-of-life or hospice care.

West Fargo City Commissioner Mike Thorstad agrees with Burgum’s direction so far. “If it becomes apparent that changes have to be made, I trust he’ll give us the direction to follow,” Thorstad said.


Thorstad said the guidelines regarding social distancing do not necessarily need to be different in Cass County, North Dakota's most populous county, than anywhere else in the state. “Yeah, we have a greater population, but on the other hand, I think generally speaking we’re doing a pretty good job of social distancing, and the businesses that are open have taken preventative measures, most of them anyway,” he said.

During their meeting Monday, Cass County commissioners discussed the issue of declaring a stay-at-home order. But before the meeting took place, Commissioner Chad Peterson told The Forum he wants harder statistics before he can support a localized stay-at-home order.

“Fargo and West Fargo are independent political subdivisions and they can do what they want and they should, because their dynamics are far different from mine,” Peterson said. “But just me, I need more data. I need better metrics. So my logic is, and I’ll analogize this to the flood: When we get to a certain elevation of the river, we react in a certain way."

Peterson added: "We’re not in catastrophe mode like unfortunately some of our friends are, and the point is to avoid that as best we can while still maintaining an economy.”

Dardis said a stay-at-home order today would still be weeks away from a possible pandemic peak, which may not arrive until mid-May or mid-June.

“Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo said something the other day: ‘New York was not prepared for this,’ and I can’t imagine being prepared for the numbers that they’re experiencing. Quite honestly, as I sit here today, I have every confidence that we will be prepared.”

Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig said "right now social distancing, the first responsibility is the individual. If you feel like you’re uncomfortable going out in public, and you’re safer staying at home, I trust the individuals more than I trust anything else."

During Monday's Cass County Commission meeting, Commissioner Mary Scherling voiced her concerns about a number of people in the area she's noticed not complying with CDC guidelines.


"Are people just not paying attention to what they should be doing, or do people just not care? At what point does the county have an ability to put any measures in place to aid in the compliance of CDC recommendations?" Scherling said.

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