In a proactive measure, the Mitchell City Council will hold a 6 p.m. special meeting Tuesday at the Corn Palace, where the board will vote on the first reading to authorize a potential shutdown for the city of Mitchell if the COVID-19 virus reaches the level of community spread.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said Tuesday’s first reading would begin a five-day time period for the council to hold a second reading that would effectively shutdown the city of Mitchell, should the council approve both the first and second readings. For the virus to reach the level of community spread, it would mean that someone living in their respective community who contracted the virus from an unknown source did so without traveling.
“Currently, Mitchell’s positive cases are travel related, but we are trying to be ready if and when we get community spread,” Everson said. “We have to have five days before the second reading ordinance can be adopted. We are planning to meet as the council on Monday (March 30).”
The novel coronavirus first spread into Mitchell on March 13, after a Mitchell resident tested positive for the virus. According to Everson, the Mitchell woman who contracted the virus received it through traveling. On Sunday, the South Department of Health announced the second positive case in the Mitchell community, which was also travel related. As of Tuesday, Mitchell had a total of two positive cases.
The special meeting comes after Beadle County and Huron city officials decided to shutdown the Huron community due to an additional six new positive cases of COVID-19 being detected over the weekend, which deemed the virus as a community spread. Prior to Huron’s six new cases that were announced Sunday, the virus wasn’t deemed as a community spread, which meant the previous positive cases that were detected in Huron were travel related. As of Tuesday, the Huron and Beadle County area had the highest number of positive cases at 12, representing nearly half of the total 28 cases in the state of South Dakota.
In addition, the pandemic has led Gov. Kristi Noem to recommend school closures and declare a state emergency on March 13 when the virus spread into South Dakota. Gov. Noem has also recommended that mayors of South Dakota cities that see community spread of the virus to enforce a city shutdown.
Similar to Huron, Mitchell’s city-wide shutdown would include the closures of all businesses in which people congregate such as restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, movie theaters and recreational facilities. However, Everson said all grocery stores and pharmacies, along with other essential establishments, would remain open throughout the duration of the shutdown. Everson noted that restaurants and fast food establishments would be permitted to provide takeout and delivery services in the midst of the shutdown.
“Not all businesses would be closed, but a majority of businesses where people gather would be closed,” he said. “You would be able to do off-sale food like carryout and takeout. The economic hits that it would have would be ugly, so we hope the Mitchell community can continue to practice hygiene and social distancing to eliminate community spread.”
Several local bars, restaurants and businesses have already voluntarily closed their dine in options and transitioned to offering delivery and takeout services amid the nationwide outbreak of the virus that reached the level of a global pandemic recently.
Although Everson is hoping the virus doesn’t prompt a city shutdown, he said the employees who work in Mitchell and commute from Huron played a role in taking the proactive measure that would authorize the council to vote on shutting the city down if the virus becomes a community spread.
With the volume of employees who work in Mitchell and commute from Huron, Everson has requested and recommended all larger businesses to screen their workers. However, he noted that employers aren't mandated to screen their employees, rather it's a recommendation to reduce the spread of the virus.
As far as enforcement goes for the city shutdown, Everson said the council would have the authority to determine how the city enforces all of those who don’t comply.
“We are allowed to put our own penalties on the ordinance, and Huron has a $500 fine if you violate their shutdown ordinance,” Everson said. “Huron is in a much more serious place than we are.”
In Everson’s best case scenario, the virus doesn’t reach community spread and the council can then sit on the second reading and vote to amend or repeal the ordinance to not shut the city down. In addition, the Mayor Everson can suspend the ordinance if he determines the virus crisis has passed without reaching community level spread, essentially killing the ordinance.
“After the five days are up following the first reading, and we see we are in community spread, we can go ahead and do the second reading to adopt the ordinance,” Everson said, noting the shutdown would take effect after the second reading is adopted and approved. “If we don’t have a community spread and have just travel related cases, the council could table it until we have a community spread.”