SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Sioux Falls City Council advanced a masking mandate Tuesday, Nov. 3, aimed at reducing the spread of a surging coronavirus, although the proposal seems likely to face a combative hearing at its final consideration next week.
The City Council voted 7-1 to advance the masking mandate, which would require city residents to wear a mask indoors if they're unable to keep 6 feet away from people for social distancing purposes.
If approved, the proposal would make the state's largest city the second, after Brookings, S.D., with an indoor masking requirement. Sioux Falls currently has no restrictions on the public or businesses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Now if I'm wrong, and people are inconvenienced by wearing a mask, that's the worst possible thing that could happen," said Councilor Curt Soehl, one of two sponsors on the proposal. "If we don't wear masks, and the numbers continue to climb like we've seen very recently, we will be facing a health care crisis where more people will die."
COVID-19 has surged across South Dakota over the last two months, regularly placing the state at the top of rankings for states with new virus cases per capita. October followed September as the state's deadliest month of the pandemic yet, with 202 fatalities in October of the state's current COVID-19 death toll of 460.
The month also saw regular daily records set in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, forcing Sioux Falls hospitals into surge plans. Avera Health on Monday said it was doubling up some intensive care rooms to provide additional space, and on Tuesday, Sanford Health said it was postponing non-emergency surgeries to free up space and staff time.
"They are being stressed to their capacity, and that's what I've been hearing," Soehl said.
But on Tuesday night, several City Council members who spoke on the mask mandate said they wouldn't support it, with some saying they were advancing it as a courtesy but would vote no at the mandate's next hearing on Nov. 10.
Councilor Christine Erickson claimed wearing masks gives people a "false sense of security" and cited the Brookings City Council decision to mandate public mask wearing, votes taken amid raucous crowds at the council hearings on both sides of the issue.
"Truly the divide in that community, and the near-fights in the grocery store because of mask-shaming, it has emboldened others to think that they're the police, to say 'you don't have a mask on' and there's big bitterness beyond that," she said. "Seeing that divide up there, and what it's done to that community to rip it apart has been troubling to me, as well."
Based on the first hearing, it seems likely the mask mandate could be headed to a 4-4 vote next week. Mayor Paul TenHaken, who would only vote on the mandate if the City Council was deadlocked, has said he won't support a mask mandate.
Contact Jeremy Fugleberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jayfug.