City Council approves first move to lift shutdown restrictions for some businesses

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Several local businesses that have been forced to close or alter their operations due to the city of Mitchell’s shutdown could be reopening their doors soon.

That comes after the Mitchell City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to lift restrictions during a special meeting Monday at City Hall. The meeting included the council making a handful of modifications to the proposed ordinance, which would most affect bars, restaurants, gyms and cafes and allow them to re-open in the face of COVID-19.

If approved next week by the council on second reading, the plan would lift the restrictions passed in the emergency ordinance from March 30, which mandated certain closures or forced takeout business.

Among the notable changes Monday to the ordinance included eliminating the requirement for residents to wear facemasks in certain settings, nixing the section that mandated all businesses ensure its employees and guests to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention hygiene guidelines and screening personnel.

But there could be one more twist: City Attorney Justin Johnson said the ordinance could be significantly altered due to the guidelines included in Noem’s executive order, which will be announced Tuesday.


Johnson drafted the ordinance, and he explained a section that limits unnecessary gatherings of 10 or more people where the 6 feet of social distance cannot be maintained. For example, a bar or restaurant may have an occupancy exceeding the amount of 10 people as long as each individual, excluding family members, significant others and people who entered the facility as a group with no more than nine, can maintain at least 6 feet of separation. Rather than establishing a fixed number of people who can occupy a business or facility, the council factored in the varying sizes of square footage that businesses have available.

Prior to the meeting, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said he received a substantial amount of feedback from community members, who largely support the City Council's plan to lift the restrictions of the emergency ordinance. One particular aspect of the new ordinance that drew opposition from many community members was the recommendation to wear masks.

“The biggest complaint is the wearing of masks, and we're modeling our ordinance off of the CDC and Gov. Kristi Noem’s guidelines,” Everson said.

As a whole, the council opposed the section of the ordinance that requires residents to wear a facemask in certain settings. Therefore, the council decided to modify the ordinance to eliminate the requirement of wearing facemasks, changing the language from “shall” to “strongly suggest” wearing facemasks.

Council member John Doescher opposed the mask mandate, pointing to the challenges of enforcing the requirement.

“This mask deal is going to be a real problem to enforce, and I think we need to recommend it instead,” Doescher said.

Council member Steve Rice pointed to a section of the ordinance that mandated places and businesses to “ensure” that their guests and employees follow the CDC hygiene guidelines to the extent possible as an area of concern. In addition, the section also requires businesses to screen their employees when they enter the facility, which was modified to also be “encouraged,” rather than “ensured.”

Rice said “ensuring” that businesses follow the CDC hygiene guidelines to the extent possible would be extremely difficult to enforce, especially with the volume of businesses in the community.


As of Monday afternoon, Davison County had five positive total cases of COVID-19, and one of those cases deemed active. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, Davison County has been deemed to have minimal to moderate community spread, with less than five cases of community-acquired COVID-19.

For enforcement of the ordinance, all violations of the ordinance are subject to the city's general penalty: a maximum fine of $500 and or up to 30 days in jail. The violations can also be considered for emergency abatement, which authorizes closure of the facility and removal of all persons. Before re-opening, the violating party would need to submit a written statement to the city to ensure future compliance with the ordinance and businesses or individuals aggrieved by the abatement could appeal the action at the next City Council meeting.

“If we treat a violation as a nuisance and there were some expenses to abate the facility, you could attribute those costs to the property owner, and they would be responsible for those costs,” Johnson said.

But another point repeated numerous times, including by Johnson, was that the powers given to the mayor allow for another shutdown, if the virus case numbers begin to significantly increase.

“If things have improved, and the mayor believes we don’t need to have the items in the ordinance, then he can temporarily suspend it and bring it back to council for the repeal process,” Johnson said.

In order for the reopening ordinance to be enacted, the council has to wait for five days until they vote on the second reading, which would mean the ordinance would go into effect upon approval of the second reading after it is legally published in The Daily Republic. City officials estimated the ordinance could be enacted as early as May 6, but is yet to be determined.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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