Much of South Dakota eased or eliminated COVID-19 safety guidelines weeks ago, but one community is doubling down. In a five to two vote, the Brookings City Council extended business restrictions for another 60 days. Here’s what that means.
The guidelines limit bars, restaurants, gyms, and salons to operate at 50-percent capacity, or a maximum of ten customers. Whichever is greater . They also encourage social distancing and hygiene, and require employees to wear masks. Several people, including the president of South Dakota State University, praised the decision. However, not everyone is on board.
In less than a week, Brookings’s business restrictions were set to expire, allowing the city to get back to pre-COVID normal. However, council member Nick Wendell says extending the guidelines is based on data that shows an uptick in cases, which puts Brookings County in the substantial community spread category.
“Communities and states that have not seen a consistent decline in the number of cases in 14 days should not be swinging the doors wide open and lifting all restrictions,” Wendell said.
Last month, Brookings County had 24 cases. According to the state department of health, it’s now up to 86 cases. 17 of those cases are active. Wendell says the council based its decision on information from medical experts, public health, and an epidemiologist. The CDC says cities should wait to re-open until they have declining case numbers for 14 days.
“I think the guidelines have helped us control the number of cases, but I think if we were to lift some of the restrictions now, we would put ourselves in peril,” Wendell said.
J. Ella Boutique owner Jael Thorpe worries prolonging the restrictions will hurt business owners and employees who have already had a tough time.
“We’re hitting that point where PPP funding is winding down, the unemployment benefits are winding down. So, I do really believe we are at a bit of a tipping point now,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe feels the Council should instead look at the number of people who have had to go to the hospital. That total has remained at four in the county.
“In my mind, to not look at that as a sign to say, it’s probably safe to re-open, I guess I think that would be prudent,” Thorpe said.
Brady: “We live in a state in which the governor has touted her hands-off approach. Certainly, Sioux Falls pivoted away from restrictions. What would you say to people who think this is a sign of government over-reach when we’ve seen many others in the state ease restrictions?”
Wendell: I think the approach our governor has taken and really the approach the federal government has taken has allowed local and municipal governments to take the lead, because every community is unique.”
The Council says its decision doesn’t require citizens to wear masks, but is encouraging them to do so. The decision allows members to re-visit the issue and make any needed adjustments within the 60 days.
“We can’t just ignore COVID-19,” Wendell said.