Following Monday's cancellation, the Mitchell City Council entered into a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to approve bill payments, but discussion of mandating masks in all city facilities dominated the meeting.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Council member Susan Tjarks suggested to mandate masks at all city facilities in response to the uptick in COVID-19 cases. Council members Marty Barington, Tjarks and Jeff Smith joined the meeting through a teleconference call, which provided enough members to meet the quorum. Absent from the meeting was Council Vice President Dan Allen.
"Currently it seems there are a lot of city employees who contracted the virus, and I think it would be a good idea for us to require masks in all public buildings," Tjarks said, noting she doesn't suggest mandating masks in privately owned businesses and entities. "Right now, we are on an upward trajectory, and I think we need to do everything we can to slow that spread."
In response, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said he does not support mandating masks in all city facilities, emphasizing the city already has a policy in place for city facilities that mandates city employees must wear masks if they are within six feet of each other.
Allowing city employees at city-owned facilities to have the decision of wearing masks, unless they are unable to be at least six feet apart, is ultimately what Everson supports.
"Anyone who wants to enter a city building absolutely has the option to wear masks, and we are already requiring employees who are six feet or closer to wear them," Everson said.
Council President Kevin McCardle and councilman Dan Sabers backed Everson's stance on leaving mask wearing up to city employees. The remaining council members who were present at the meeting did not express their stance on the mask mandate.
"I think it is a personal preference, and if one doesn't feel comfortable going somewhere, then don't go there," McCardle said. "It should be up to the individual to wear a mask and go to places they feel comfortable."
In the past three weeks, Davison County has seen its largest spike in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in mid-March. As of Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported 169 active cases in Davison County, bringing the overall number of infections to 460. However, there have been 289 recoveries, and a total of 26 hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.
Although Davison County has been experiencing its largest increase in cases over the past three weeks, compared to other similar-sized South Dakota counties, the number of overall cases remain fairly lower. In like-sized counties such as Beadle County — which is where Huron is located, a town with about 2,000 fewer residents than Mitchell — there have been 891 cases, while Codington County —where Watertown is located — has seen a total of 1,031 cases. And in Brookings County — which has required masks to be worn at private businesses and city facilities — there have been a total of 863 cases.
"For those employees who have concerns and still be required to come to work and may be at high risk, they are not being protected from the people around them," Tjarks said. "I feel like it is good to err on the side of safety. I'm not saying it has to be forever, but right now we are on an upward trajectory."
The council will discuss Tjarks' proposed city facility mask mandate at the scheduled upcoming Oct. 19 meeting.