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UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: Closures are now part of our new normal

Lockers are cleared, restaurants empty — fallout from COVID-19 not over yet

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UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: Closures are now part of our new normal

Wahpeton High School seniors Jayden Cherry, Emily DeVries and Cassie DeVillers clean out their lockers Friday at the school. Wahpeton is among the other North Dakota schools utilizing distance learning for an indefinite amount of time because of novel coronavirus.

Efforts to slow COVID-19, a strain of novel coronavirus, include the indefinite closure of North Dakota K-12 schools, restaurants, bars, recreation facilities, theaters and more to the public until at least Monday, April 6.

Whether a high school student or food service employee, numerous Richland County residents and workforce members are in unfamiliar territory.

Advised to take all their belongings Friday, March 20, Wahpeton High School students spoke with staff including counselor Jessica Gilsrud about immediate concerns such as whether or not they have Internet access.

“Starting Monday, March 23, Wahpeton High School will be going to online learning until further notice,” the school stated in a letter to parents. “Students in grades 9-12 should expect to spend about two to three hours every school day working on their course work.”

Times are flexible, the school said, but will depend on teachers’ scheduled activities. The plan is to start slow and increase over time, the letter said.

“Students are expected to check in on each class in Schoology every day,” the school said.

While students were clearing their lockers, restaurants were preparing for a new service model during this unprecedented time.

Gov. Doug Burgum’s executive order prohibiting dine-in restaurant services but permitting take-out, delivery, drive-through or off-sale services took effect at 12 p.m. Friday. While doing what they can for customers, restaurant staff are aware that it won’t be business as usual for some time.

“You can still order by phone and it will be ready for a quick pickup,” said Dean Twidwell, owner and manager of the Wahpeton Deli & Eatery. “Our full menu is available. Our front parking spaces are completely open for pickup customers.”

Life under the executive order means a new way of doing things. The Wahpeton Deli was fully staffed as of Friday morning, but Twidwell said he doesn’t know what to expect.

“I’ve never been in this position before,” said Doe Rae Prante, co-owner and manager of Prante’s Fine Dining, Wahpeton. “The plans are going to change every day, I think.”

Prante’s is using Facebook to let customers know its current menu. The restaurant had a staff of 16.

“We’ve had to let them all go,” Prante said. “We’re just doing take-out right now.”

Kimi Thimjon is manager of The Boiler Room, Wahpeton. She said customers have been supportive and sympathetic following the announcement of the restaurant restrictions.

“What we’re all taking from this is that we have to follow the procedure and precautions to ensure the safety of others,” Thimjon said. “I hope this is not a lengthy process. I hope that people will come back. It’s the not knowing that’s tough.”

The Boiler Room, which has also reduced staff, is another of the local restaurants offering non-dine-in services for customers. Residents are advised to call restaurants, check social media and watch for exterior signage for additional information.

As of midday Friday, March 20, North Dakota has 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Eleven cases are reported in Burleigh County, followed by five in Morton County, three in Ward County and one in Cass County. 

Residents who are self-quarantining or preparing to self-quarantine are advised to stay informed about COVID-19. The disease has symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The North Dakota Department of Health said symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

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