Fall COVID-19 surge arrives in Davison County
Nearly 60% of the county's total cases to date have occurred in the last 3 weeks
The number of Davison County residents dealing with active COVID-19 cases reached a record high on Monday, bringing the threat of coronavirus to the front door of local residents in the largest way yet.
The county’s active case count reached 168 people on Monday before dropping slightly to 165 on Tuesday. In all, 434 residents have tested positive for the virus, with 269 people recovered and two deaths since March.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said based on the trends city staff has seen, the largest rise in cases is young adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
“The cases seem to be in the younger crowds, where it’s really spreading," Everson said. "It’s the adults and the younger adults that we’re seeing more cases and more spread from, and that is a challenge to stop.”
Nearly 60% of the county’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the past three-plus weeks, according to data from the South Dakota Department of Health. In a span of 22 days, Davison County has added 260 cases and over the course of 13 days from Sept. 22 to Oct. 4, the county has added 10 or more cases 12 times. The spike was highlighted by 29 new cases on Sept. 30 and 27 more cases on Oct. 1, passing more than what the county saw in a single month during April, May or June.
Everson said the city of Mitchell doesn’t have any plans to mandate masks among citizens in businesses. City staff is required to wear them if they are within 6 feet of another or riding in a vehicle together.
“We expect businesses to take action on their own to protect people,” Everson said. “We’re letting them make the decision. … It’s something we continue to watch.”
He said many Mitchell businesses are taking precautions to space individuals from each other in restaurants and bars. Everson said he does not want another city shutdown of businesses, as was the case in Mitchell — primarily restaurants, bars and gyms — for 25 days in April.
“If we start telling them we have to close, you start putting people out of work," Everson said. "Those people are already having a tough time. We’re not looking to run people out of business. It’s kind of a balancing act. Every business in Mitchell is important, but so is the health of the citizens.”
No change in business or approach is expected from Davison County, Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said Tuesday. The county is leaving the decision to wear masks with individual visitors and employees.
A major reason for the status quo is because the courthouse needs to remain accessible for voters ahead of the November election, Bode said. Hand sanitizing stations, plastic barriers and markings on the floor for social distancing will be emphasized. The courthouse operated by appointment only for three months from March 19 to June 24.
“We’ve learned a lot in the last six months, and I’d expect that we’ll learn more going forward,” Bode said. “The greatest concern is about how to make it accessible and safe for people to continue to vote in person. Other than that, we pretty much set what our game plan would be for people coming in.”
Schools try to keep virus in check
Among local schools and universities, COVID-19 numbers remain mostly in check. As of Tuesday, eight Mitchell Technical College students have COVID-19, along with four faculty members. That is down from the 18 students/staff from a week ago. Twenty-four individuals have recovered from the virus, including 19 students, with 13 recoveries added this week.
Dakota Wesleyan University reported on Tuesday six active cases of COVID-19 among its students, along with one staff member. Last week, the school had four active cases among students.
The county’s school districts have not reported extensive numbers of COVID-19 cases through the first six weeks of classes.
On Friday, the Mitchell School District issued its weekly update related to COVID-19 with five active cases in all grades K-12. There have been a total of 13 cases since school started, with eight recoveries. Six of the cases have been in high school, the most of any specific building in the district.
Ethan Superintendent Tim Hawkins said the district has not had a lot of cases, with “a few students and a couple of staff members contracting the virus.” He said the severity has been wide-spread, with some having minor symptoms and a couple that have been very ill and severely sick. The virus has caused the Ethan volleyball team to stop its season, last playing in a game on Sept. 21, and delaying parent-teacher conferences and moving them to a digital format. Hawkins said they’ve tried to keep classes as close to normal as possible and hold them in-person.
“We’ve been fortunate with close contacts, so for the most part, we’ve been able to keep kids in the building,” Hawkins said, adding that some classes have moved to the school gym or outdoors to accommodate social distancing. Masks are highly recommended for Ethan students.
In Mount Vernon, it has been a stressful few weeks, said Superintendent Pat Mikkonen. The district has had 10 positive cases among students and staff and five have recovered and returned to class.
“It’s hard to manage, especially doing contact tracing on our own accord,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can get through this period and that it settles down. We’re seeing it taper off some already because of the close contacts quarantining.”
The district, which has a cooperative agreement with Plankinton in many activities, is in the midst of a two-week hiatus of extracurricular activities until Oct. 12 after both districts were dealing with COVID-19 among their students.