Council approves changing review date for citywide mask mandate
The Mitchell City Council will review the termination date of the mask mandate on Jan. 19.
The termination date of the citywide mask ordinance will be revisited in mid-January following the Mitchell City Council’s approval on Monday night.
While the council narrowly approved bringing the mask mandate back to the Jan. 19 meeting to consider terminating it at that time, the ordinance is set to expire on Jan. 22, which would mark 60 days since its approval on Nov. 23. However, the council has the authority to repeal the mask ordinance at any time with a simple majority vote.
Under the mask ordinance, individuals inside every indoor building within city limits are required to wear a mask or face covering if they are unable to be at least 6 feet apart, along with several other exceptions. Despite the council’s 5-3 vote on Monday to bring the mask mandate back on Jan. 19, Councilman Marty Barington urged the council to continue reviewing the mandate at every meeting. Joining Barington were council members Steve Rice and Jeff Smith, representing the three votes to deny reviewing the ordinance on Jan. 19.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t talk about it every council meeting, and I think we owe it to the public to review it,” said Councilman Marty Barington.
As of Monday, Davison County had a total of 148 active cases, a steep drop from what the county saw during its peak that hovered around 800 active cases throughout the early half of November. According to the Department of Health’s data, active COVID-19 cases have drastically dropped over the past month, as there were 8,373 active cases on Monday.
As one of the most vocal mask advocates, council member Susan Tjarks presented a chart showing data of the decline in cases since the mask mandate was implemented.
“We were at 800 when we implemented the mask mandate, and our cases have just steadily continued to drop since,” Tjarks said. “One of the exciting things today was we went from over 800 active cases, and today we have only 148, along with only one new confirmed case. That is wonderful news. My intentions are pure with the mask mandate, and I really care about this community.”
Dwight Stadler, a community member who has opposed the mandate, voiced his frustrations with the council’s decision to continue tabling the termination date.
“If you’re going to keep tabling this thing, you are just going to keep this going forever,” Stadler said. “By the time you make a vote on this, we will probably have the vaccine out by then.”
Although cases have dipped recently, Stadler said Mitchell’s mask mandate is not responsible for the drop in cases. Rather, Stadler said Davison County had already hit its peak at the time the mandate was adopted.
Stadler also criticized the statistics of COVID-19 cases in the county, citing a lack of data analysis.
“You have all brought some raw numbers, but you don’t have any data analysis of it. You don’t have any reliable data,” Stadler said. “By the time you implemented this mandate, the cases already peaked and we were on our downside. The masks are not responsible for the drop in numbers.”
Stadler also questioned whether the COVID-19 testing is reliable and accurate, pointing to a recent incident involving Elon Musk’s four tests that he claimed came back with two positives and two negatives.
“These masks do not protect you against airborne pathogens,” Stadler said. “How about the unreliability of COVID-19 testing. Elon Musk had four tests, and two came back positive and two were negative.”
Justin Luther, manager of County Fair, applauded the council’s decision to implement the mandate, noting it’s had a positive impact on the local grocery store.
“At the end of the day, our staff feels much more comfortable working since we put the mask mandate in place,” Luther said. “Our number of cases and quarantines from our staff are way down. I know it’s not fun, but at the end of the day we put laws in place to protect people like smoking before you’re 18.”
Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway expressed his support for the mask mandate, which he said has been a major factor for events still being held at Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction.
“We are having many of the events that we’ve been able to host because of the mask policies,” Greenway said.
COVID-19 update from local Avera physician
Dr. Hilary Rockwell, an emergency physician at Avera Queen of Peace, opened the meeting by updating the council on the impact COVID-19 is having at the local hospital.
Rockwell said the hospital has continued seeing a drop in new patients over the past two weeks compared to the rate in the months of October and November when Davison County was in the midst of its largest surge since the start of the pandemic.
“Things are delicately stable at the moment, and what we have been doing has been working,” Rockwell said. “January could certainly be a month that we see a spike with the holiday gatherings, so we can’t let our guard down.”
According to Rockwell, 20% of the county has contracted COVID-19. However, she urged the council to stay the course and continue mitigating the spread of the virus, noting that 80% of residents have yet to be infected.
As vaccinations are being distributed, Rockwell said Avera Queen of Peace will be receiving 800 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine this week. In order to effectively quell the virus, Rockwell said the community needs 60% of its residents to receive the vaccination.
“This is exciting,” Rockwell said. “The first dose will give you about 50% immunity, but after the second dose it gives you over 90%. It will take time, but it is exciting that we have this path out of COVID-19.”