FARGO — Government leaders in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area stressed Wednesday, March 18, that services they provide the public will continue, but in many areas, public access to government offices will become increasingly restricted as the battle to slow the advancing coronavirus heats up.
"People have to understand, we're going to hit this thing hard," Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said, referring to the threat posed by the coronavirus.
Speaking at a morning meeting held in Fargo and attended by several political jurisdictions in the metro area, Mahoney said the city of Fargo will do everything it can to provide services, "But not necessarily have the City Hall open."
Later Wednesday evening, Mahoney's office announced that all city facilities, including City Hall and the Fargodome, would be closed to the public starting Thursday, March 19.
The announcement said all essential services were continuing and department heads were reviewing remote and in-person staffing decisions. The city's main phone number, 701-241-1310, will continue to be answered during normal business hours, the announcement said.
Businesses such as bars and restaurants have been closed in Minnesota by order of Gov. Tim Walz, but as of late Wednesday, no such statewide order had been issued in North Dakota or in the city of Fargo.
Mahoney said, however, that city officials have been in talks with Gov. Doug Burgum concerning that subject.
A number of restaurants in Fargo, including some in the downtown core, were filling food orders Wednesday based on carryout only, while others have begun limiting hours of operation.
Moorhead officials said Wednesday that City Hall and other city offices will be closed to the public starting Thursday, March 19.
Meanwhile, Moorhead city workers will continue reporting for duty as usual and city offices will remain operational, Mayor Johnathan Judd said.
City buildings that will be closed include Moorhead City Hall, public works, wastewater, police and fire stations, the Hjemkomst Center, the Moorhead Sports Center and the Cullen Hockey Center.
Judd said residents who have a need to speak with city officials are encouraged to do so by phone, or make arrangements to deal with matters at a later time.
Cass County Commissioner Chad Peterson said county government was continuing to operate, with department heads working on ways of helping employees work from home wherever possible.
Peterson also addressed what he said was a false impression among some that the Cass County Jail was being emptied of inmates.
He said that is not the case, but the county does have a contingency plan that, if need be, could reduce the jail population in order to make room for people who are viewed as posing a danger to the community.
"We're not emptying the jail out, but we do have plans in place," Peterson said.
West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis said all essential services were still being provided by the city and an effort was being made to allow as many city employees as possible to work from home.
Dardis said anyone who has questions or needs help from the city is asked to contact the city by phone, stressing that reducing physical proximity between people is a nationwide priority for slowing the advance of the coronavirus.
The Clay County Commission on Wednesday met in emergency session and decided that all county offices and buildings will be kept locked, including the Clay County Courthouse, the law enforcement center and the Family Service Center, all of which are located near one another in north Moorhead.
In the case of the courthouse, workers will man the doors and decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow people to enter.
At buildings like the Family Service Center, phone numbers will be posted at doorways for offices in the building. If it is determined someone should be allowed into the building, a worker will escort the individual to the office and later escort them to an exit.
Also Wednesday, Clay County commissioners gave their OK to allowing county employees to work from home, particularly if they are at high risk for the coronavirus.
The board also gave supervisors flexibility when it comes to setting up nontraditional work hours, such as nights and weekends, which can help employees with things like child care issues.
For now, the county landfill will continue with normal operations.
The city of Dilworth announced Wednesday that beginning Thursday, all government office buildings will be locked, but city operations will continue and employees will maintain normal hours.
Any face-to-face interactions between the public and city employees will be conducted on an appointment basis only, according to Peyton Mastera, city administrator.
Mastera said the city's recycling drop-off point will also be closed for the foreseeable future.
More information about Dilworth's efforts to stem the coronavirus can be found on the city's website at cityofdilworth.com.