By Annie Prafcke
Fargo, ND – Cass County is now at a moderate risk level for the coronavirus according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further indicate that Cass County is responsible for almost a quarter (24.4% on October 1st) of coronavirus cases in North Dakota. On September 21st, Commissioner John Strand proposed a mask mandate for the city of Fargo to help flatten the curve. Although his proposal has been met with controversy, several local restaurants have already taken the initiative to require masks in their establishments.
Andrea Baumgardner, co-owner of BernBaum’s sandwich and bagel shop, says her employees masked at the onset of the pandemic in March, during which time they were only open for takeout and delivery. When they reopened dine-in services in mid-June, they posted a sign asking customers to wear a face-covering when ordering to protect employee health. A few weeks later, the front of the house reported feeling unsafe because some customers were not complying, prompting Baumgardner to post the sign that is now on their front door, reading “No mask, no service” on July 21st. While most customers gladly adhere to the policy, Baumgardner says she has had some complaints, with two customers even attempting to enter unmasked with fake medical exemption cards. Syndey Nelson, who works as a server at BernBaum’s, affirms, “We all feel way more comfortable taking orders when masks are involved.”
BernBaum's only requires customers to wear face coverings when ordering at the counter since that is when close contact between customers and staff lasts the longest. So far, none of BernBaum’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Silver Lining Creamery currently serves customers from a walk-up window rather than their lobby and they require all staff and delivery people wear a face-covering in the building. They also sanitize five times daily, monitor employee temperatures, and strictly adhere to CDC guidelines. Although wearing a mask is not required for customers ordering at the window, they are strongly encouraged to do so. Michelle Pulling, owner of Silver Lining Creamery, says many of her employees have at-risk family members whom they want to protect from potential exposure to coronavirus. Pulling believes it is important to take these precautions because she wants Fargo kids, including her own great-niece, to be able to safely return to school with full in-person instruction as soon as possible. She says, “We do everything we can that we have control of to make sure that we’re doing our part to not spread it [coronavirus].”
The CDC affirms that there is a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus in enclosed spaces, such as restaurants because it is more difficult to maintain social distancing and to disperse respiratory droplets. Face coverings with at least two layers slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, especially when all members of a community wear them. Many people who work in small eateries with limited airflow believe that a mask mandate for customers is their best protection. Kara Klipfel is the general manager of Luna, a Fargo restaurant on South University Drive that mandates customers wear a face-covering except at their tables. She says Luna is a small restaurant and employees work in close quarters for hours. She believes having a mask requirement, as well as building a patio for outdoor seating, has made Luna safer for everyone. Katie Williams, who works as a server at Luna, says she feels that by masking, customers respect both her health as a server and the health of fellow customers.
Don Gorden, a cook at Teddy’s Eatery & Parlor, another restaurant with limited space, says he and his coworkers are in consensus that the mask requirement at this establishment is necessary since Teddy’s does not offer takeout or delivery and all customers are in the same enclosed area for extended periods of time. He says, “. . . Pretty much we’re all friends here . . . And we all feel the same way about it. It should be this way.”
While it is admirable that many local eateries have taken extra steps to protect their employees and the public from the coronavirus, it is a difficult decision for some restaurant owners to turn away non-compliant customers. Casey Absey, Owner and Operator of Blackbird Woodfire, says that while his staff are masked, he does not necessitate customers do the same. He says he is not in a financial position to be able to turn down business, even though he believes masks are important. Absey believes it would be easier to require masks in his establishment if it were government enforced rather than the choice of individual restaurants. He says, “. . . The state’s not mandating anything, which I think they should at least back us up on a lot of that stuff but they’re not at all.”
Commissioner John Strand believes a city-wide mask mandate would be an important step in maintaining public health in Fargo. “Fargo is a concentrated population center for our region. And our numbers are unfortunately not going in the right direction,” he says. “. . . While we’ve had a directive in place and we’ve had lots of businesses stepping up and implementing their own policies, there are countless examples of outright noncompliance.”
Although the Fargo City Council did not pass a mask mandate on September 21st, they did approve of drafting two versions of a mask mandate ordinance, one with enforcement mechanisms and one without. Strand says the purpose of drafting this ordinance is so that it will be readily available if cases of COVID-19 rise and it becomes necessary to consider enacting it.
Strand says that in drafting an ordinance, exemptions will be considered for people with medical conditions and children under 10. Exemptions for certain situations, such as for playing sports, attending religious services, and speaking publicly, will also be considered.
Regardless of whether or not a mask mandate passes, the Fargo community should be thankful to restaurants and businesses that prioritize public health. We should all do what we can to not only protect ourselves but to protect all of those who work at the local shops and eateries we love.
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