FARGO — As cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise in Cass County, the mayors of Fargo and West Fargo signed directives Tuesday, April 7, asking residents to stay home and comply with public health guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is not a never-leave-your-house order," Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said during a news conference at City Hall. "I’m charging each of you to be North Dakota smart.”
Later in an interview with The Forum, Mahoney said Fargo's directive has teeth, and works similarly to noise ordinance laws. Those who do not comply can face fines by police, he said.
West Fargo's directive, signed by Mayor Bernie Dardis, does not carry the force of law at this time.
In Fargo, law enforcement will only be enforcing guidelines that limit gatherings to no more than 10 people in public places, and will not be monitoring people in private homes or businesses, said Ty Filley, a city spokesman.
Other guidelines, such as maintaining social distances or disinfecting businesses, that are included in the directive do not fall under the force of law.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd said Tuesday that he hasn't seen the final draft of the directive yet, but his officers know their job.
"It's an infraction," Todd said. "If there's an emergency declaration by the mayor then it is a violation that is an infraction punishable by a $200 fine associated with it."
Todd said the goal of his department is to help people follow good common sense during the pandemic.
"The track we're taking here, is if we get a complaint or make an observation ... we will go talk to those people or that business and ask them to change their practice," Todd said. "Our first approach would be to ask people and verbally warn them, if they refuse to disperse or refuse to follow our ask, then we could do a long-form complaint to the state's attorney's office regarding the mayor's executive order."
The directive that Dardis signed "has no force of law in West Fargo," said Mattie Jelseth, a spokeswoman for the city of West Fargo. "We are just instructing residents and businesses to follow the guidelines."
Dardis said he's in “lock step” with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who has declined so far to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
“Each resident, each adult, each child, each family, each business and each store must do more,” Dardis said. “As a community, we must do our part to help stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease.”
Dardis, who wore a medical mask around his neck and painter’s gloves behind the podium, said that as Easter approaches, it's more important than ever for families to keep practicing social distancing.
Area parks will remain open, but if the guidelines are abused they may be shut down, Mahoney said. Last week, a group of about 10 people were playing basketball in Island Park, he said.
“For the next month, we cannot have what I saw last week,” the mayor said.
Mahoney added that there won't be a distinction made between essential or nonessential businesses or employees, and people who are still going to work will not need an essential worker letter at this time.
"We will go by an honor system, but some people are gathering letters just in case," he said.
If case numbers do not begin to decline within seven to 10 days, then stricter measures will be enforced, Mahoney said.
Jerry Rostad, president of the Fargo Park Board, said statistics show grocery store traffic is down 13%, retail and recreation traffic is down 44% and park traffic across the state is up 44%.
“This clearly shows that our parks and recreational facilities are something people can turn to at this time,” Rostad said.
He advised people to share trails and warn other trail users of their presence, use six foot spacing rules, avoid areas of 10 or more people, modify activities to meet group size and social distancing requirements, practice limited use of playgrounds and courts, and use sanitary wipes before getting on a swing or using other equipment.
Mahoney issued five main points under the directive: think twice before leaving home, don’t turn necessary excursions into hoarding trips or social gatherings, respect restaurant workers and other employees who are frequently in public, wear a mask when taking necessary trips outside the home or encountering food delivery personnel, wash hands repeatedly and practice social distancing.
“We are going to stay apart so we can come together sooner. We can do this together and save lives. We’re not shutting down anything …. We’re just asking you to be more cognitive. It’s your individual actions that can make this go away,” Mahoney said.
The mayors said they are offering the directives in support of, and to expand upon, the governor's efforts.
Burgum has said a statewide stay-at-home order is among the tools he may utilize. But North Dakota remains one of a handful of states without such an order.
Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order in Minnesota from March 27 to April 10, which he may extend. Under the order, Minnesotans can leave their homes under certain circumstances, including getting groceries or gas, working at a job deemed essential, and enjoying the outdoors.
On Tuesday, confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota rose again to 237, with four deaths, according to the state Department of Health. Cass County is so far the heaviest hit with 70 cases.
“This is the time we can make the most impact. Social distancing is critically important and the Stay Home. / Save Lives. Directive reflects just that," Mahoney said in a statement. "This is an urgent call for our residents to help fight the community spread of COVID-19. We need you to take this seriously — now."
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