FARGO — “We have to hit it hard,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney told the public at a press conference Friday, March 20, in the City Hall Commission Chambers.
“We’re all in this together,” Mahoney said. “This is a very difficult time for everybody, but if you hit it hard for two weeks that may well flatten the curve.”
The press conference was called to further explain Gov. Doug Burgum’s executive order closing bars, restaurants, breweries and cafes in the state due to the coronavirus pandemic. The mass closure of on-sale and on-site functions goes into effect at noon March 20 and will continue through April 6. Takeout, delivery, curbside, drive-through or off-sale services will be allowed to continue.
Mahoney was joined by local restaurant owner Randy Thorson, who owns bars and restaurants in three states and employs approximately 800 people.
“We believe this is the right decision,” Thorson said of the closures, indicating strategic planning had begun earlier in the week, and he and others had arrived at the conclusion prior to Burgum’s announcement.
“We believe that this two-week period is something we can deal with,” Thorson said.
He said he’s asked the mayor and governor for a zero-percent bridge loan from the rainy day fund to help local bars and restaurants get through the next couple of weeks.
“We know that, when we open back up again, those sales that we create can pay half of that funding back again right away,” he said.
Sandi Piatz, chair elect of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has set up a webpage, aimed at their more than 2,100 members, that provides leverage and resources that can be developed as the rapidly-changing situation unfolds. She said a task force has been created, in partnership with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, to address the coronavirus impact on businesses.
“This task force is going to be focused on communications for businesses, work force, employees and employers resources,” Piatz said, “financial support, business engagement, how we can all work together to serve everyone’s needs, and data analysis reporting.”
West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis said businesses should explore U.S. Small Business Administration help, including possible disaster loans, saying many programs are being enhanced and made available as never before. He also urged businesses and individuals to follow the government’s example by honoring the “10-person rule,” by keeping crowds to the recommended minimum and teleconferencing as much as possible.
Chad Peterson, chairman of the Cass County Commission, said the county’s role is to offer support in times like this.
“Don’t forget to apply for unemployment, as well,” Peterson said.
While not everyone may qualify, he urged residents to ask questions and stay informed. Everything is by appointment, Peterson said.
Peterson told restaurants there is help out there, and he pointed to Uber Eats, which is now free.
“If you are a restaurateur, and your food has the capability of being delivered in a manageable, easy way,” Peterson said, “get on Uber Eats.”
He also told displaced workers there are jobs out there.
“We still had, before this happened, between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs that are open in North Dakota,” he said.
Mahoney, who is a vascular surgeon in addition to being mayor, said officials will be looking at relieving penalties and late fees for businesses over the next month, as well as other options, to help stem the economic hardships many employers and employees are facing in the face of a massive commercial shutdown.
He said that serious measures have been taken because the coronavirus affects people of all ages. He urged those who feel sick to stay at home, and stressed the importance of social distancing.
“As a physician, I truly feel we will come up with some solutions to this virus as the months go by,” Mahoney said.
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