Council's discussion for city facility mask mandate met with opposition

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A proposal to implement a mask mandate at city facilities came up against strong opposition during Monday night’s Mitchell City Council meeting.

At the request of Council member Susan Tjarks, Monday’s agenda included a discussion for the council to consider mandating a mask policy at all city facilities, which sparked criticism from community members who have extensive experience as health care professionals in various capacities. After lengthy discussion, the council did not take any action on implementing a mask mandate.

“We’re facing a public health crisis in Davison County, in my opinion,” Tjarks said. “Any mask requirement or request is not just protecting our employees, but we are also protecting the public. I think that wearing a mask is an act of compassion, whether you believe in science or not. … And it may save a life.”

Council President Kevin McCardle pointed out Tjarks requesting hasn’t been wearing a mask to City Council meetings for the past eight months since the start of the pandemic in March, noting she hasn't followed the same mask policies that she's advocating for. But Tjarks pushed back, pointing to Davison County’s recent surge in cases as the reason she is supporting a mask policy at all city facilities and wore one to Monday’s meeting.

“This is the first time you have worn a mask at a City Council meeting,” McCardle said. “The cases didn’t just start jumping today, they’ve been increasing for a while now."


Although McCardle said he’s been closely monitoring Davison County’s case numbers, he supports giving community members and city employees the option to wear a mask.

“I think the general public is smart enough to make their own decisions that are best for their own health,” McCardle said. “The CDC has laid out good guidelines.”

As of Monday, Davison County had a total of 286 active cases of the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 732 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Davison County. The recent spike in cases is the largest increase in coronavirus cases that the county has experienced thus far.

Tjarks pitched the suggestion for the council to include language in the city’s COVID-19 ordinance to strongly request mask wearing in all city facilities.

“I certainly am not a person who is a dictator. I certainly don’t want to see anyone arrested because they walked into a city building without a mask on, but I do think that we should have a strong request in a powerful way,” Tjarks said.

In response, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the city currently has a policy that strongly recommends masks when one isn’t able to achieve the adequate six feet of social distance.

Dwight Stadler, a Mitchell resident, spoke in opposition of a mask mandate. Stadler noted his previous role with the Veterans Healthcare Administration entailed infection control and infection prevention such as Ebola.

“COVID-19 is a virus, and the CDC recognizes that COVID-19 is a virus that is an airborne pathogen with microscopic particles,” Stadler said. “Airborne pathogens are different than droplets. Airborne Pathogens remain in the air up to several hours, and in order to protect against airborne pathogens, you have to have an N95 mask that can provide an effective seal.”


Rather than mandating masks -- which Stadler concludes are ineffective at protecting the airborne pathogens associated with the virus -- he suggested the council to educate and train community members on proper hygiene and disinfecting practices.

Sonja VanErdewyk, a Mitchell resident and former critical care registered nurse, strongly opposed the possibility of a mask mandate at city facilities, referencing scientific studies that claim masks are ineffective and have adverse effects on one’s health.

“There actually are no randomized control trials verifying the outcome that shows the benefits of health care workers or community members for wearing a mask or respirator,” VanErdewyk said. “However, there is a study that was done in 2015 that showed in a hospital setting with mandating cloth masks, surgical masks or no masks. What they found was that the cloth mask for health care workers who know how to take their mask off and put it on, the infection rate actually increased 13 times.”

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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