Mitchell City Council holds mask mandate change, hears COVID-19 update from local doctor

Although it’s been roughly two weeks since the mask mandate went into effect, Davison County has seen a drop in active cases over the past two weeks.
A discarded masks lays on the stage at the Mitchell city council meeting on Monday at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell City Council tabled making a change to the citywide mask mandate during Monday night’s meeting, which would put the ordinance on the council’s agenda at every meeting.

While the mask mandate will automatically be rescinded after the 60-day period since its approval is up unless the council extends it at that time, the council has the authority to repeal it anytime, if the council approves with a majority vote. That means the mask mandate continues in Mitchell.

The mask mandate that was narrowly approved by the council on Nov. 23 in a 5-3 vote, requires all individuals inside every indoor building within the city limits 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 strong opposition that the mask mandate came up against, a group of residents backed with the support of Avera Queen of Peace’s doctors and medical professionals urged the council to implement the mandate.

During the public input portion of the meeting, Sonja VanErdewyk, was one of the residents who spoke against the city’s mask mandate. VanErdewyk urged the council to focus their efforts on encouraging more community members to take Vitamin D supplements, as she noted it has been shown to significantly help fend off COVID-19.

“I think we should be looking at personal health and wellness, instead of forcing masks on us,” VanErdwyck said. “Why aren’t we mandating Vitamin D supplementation? I would encourage all of you tonight to think about what we are going to do to get more community members to increase Vitamin D.”


Council President Kevin McCardle, one of the three councilmen to vote no on the mandate, requested the mask ordinance be brought in front of the council at every meeting, rather than every other meeting.

Although it’s been roughly two weeks since the mask mandate went into effect, Davison County has seen a drop in active cases over the past two weeks. As of Monday, the state Department of Health reported Davison County had a total of 489 active COVID-19 cases, roughly 400 less than what the county saw two weeks ago.

The council will vote on amending the mandate at the Dec. 21 meeting.

Following the council’s decision to table the mask mandate amendment, Dr. Hilary Rockwell, an emergency physician at Avera Queen of Peace, provided an update on the impact COVID-19 is having on the local hospital. According to Rockwell, the hospital has experienced a drop in new patients over the past two weeks compared to the rate they saw in the past two months when Davison County was in the midst of its largest surge since the start of the pandemic.

While the number of new COVID-19 patients has been decreasing, Rockwell said the increase in deaths is contributing to the drop in patients.

“Previously, we had over 20 COVID-19 patients, and now we are down to 10 to 15,” Rockwell said. “The severity of the virus has not decreased, as we continue to have patients on ventilators. Unfortunately, some of the decrease in hospitalizations is the increase in deaths, and we have had an average of 23 deaths per day this far in the month of December.”

Rockwell warned the council that projections show there could be another surge in the next two to four weeks, which Rockwell said could be a 50% to 100% increase in patients being admitted into the hospital.

However, Rockwell said the projections don’t factor in community mitigation efforts. Rockwell urged the community to continue making efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, pointing to mask-wearing and social distancing efforts.


Rockwell concluded by updating the council on the status of the COVID-19 vaccine, which she said is expected to be distributed to the general public within the “next several months.”

“We will start with the high risk populations, the health care workers and go from there,” Rockwell said. “I feel like the community has stepped up, and this is definitely not the time to back down.”

Street lights approved

The Mitchell City Council backed a request to install street lights along a newly developing area along the west side of Mitchell during Monday’s meeting.

Both of the street lights are being requested to be installed on 20th Avenue in between Ohlman and Quail streets, and 21st Avenue in between Pheasant and Quail streets.

Northwestern Energy, the electricity utility company that the city occasionally works with, have recommended one street light per-city block. The street lights for the proposed streets will be constructed at the intersections of the newly developing areas.

According to City Engineer Joe Schroeder, street lights are installed free of charge to the City of Mitchell if the wood pole is installed by Northwestern Energy. The city is then charged $13.74 a month per light to the once it is installed.

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.
What To Read Next
Get Local