Eye On KELOLAND: How small towns handle a big crisis

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Whether it’s a population of over 100,000 or just 3,000, being in charge a city is no small feat. For mayors serving during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to keep people safe.

One of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 came out of Beadle County, just a few counties away from Hartford in western Minnehaha county.

“It kind of felt like we were watching this wave maybe come across the country and we were just wondering, ‘Ok, when’s it going to come where and how’s it going to happen,” Menning said.

With the spread happening quickly, Mayor of Hartford Jeremy Menning and their city council were quick to reach out to other communities for better insight of the situation.

“And really starting to get together and funnel any information that we could from federal, state and local level,” Menning said.

They decided their best approach to protecting their community, was hearing from them.

“We needed to put together a task force,” Menning said.

This group consists of city staff, members of the medical community, school district, grocery stores, law enforcement and several others.

“That really acted as… a funnel of information to be able to say, ‘Ok. Here’s what’s happening in our area and here’s how we can react to it,'” Menning said.

This led to many local event cancellations to help prevent spread of the virus.

“Had to cancel jamboree days and some of our summer celebrations and some of those things.” Menning said.

Initially, the city did write out an ordinance to enact restrictions in local businesses, it even passed a first reading, but canceled the second as the community had already been doing their part.

“They were already doing the right thing. They were already following the Governor’s executive order, they were already making sure they had safe procedures in place,” Menning said.

Menning says one of the perks of a small town is a big communal connection.

“We’re a community and we know who each other are, we trust each other, we see each other, our kids grow up together. That is a huge benefit that we have that we’re able to basically come together as a community and say, ‘Let’s do this,'” Menning said.

Meanwhile, about 20 miles east in Brandon, a town with 10,000 residents, similar approaches were being taken by Mayor Paul Lundberg and his team.

“I’m able to go out at 11 o’clock in the morning and by 12:30 I can have visited all dozen of our restaurants and bars personally,” Lundberg said.

Most of which have been implementing social distancing and curbside pick-up.

“Most of those businesses were already voluntarily complying with the ten and under, if not, completely shutting down,” Lundberg said.

They’ve even found ways to alter positions so people could still have jobs.

“We has a school resource officer, who obviously wasn’t in session with school, so we immediately deployed him as our COVID-19 liaison to contact those businesses and deal with those businesses to help out; kind of a best practice,” Lundberg said.

They also implemented a loan program to business owners.

“No payments for the first year, no interest for five years from funds that we’ve had available to us from development foundation loan programs from the state,” Lundberg said.

Lundberg says it only took two weeks to loan $10-20,000 dollars to around 25 businesses. As restrictions begin to loosen across South Dakota, Brandon has taken some steps to re-open business doors to limited capacity and local parks.

“They’re back open. On a limited basis, our restrooms still aren’t open. We just don’t have the staff to clean and monitor those appropriately,” Lundberg said.

As of Thursday, Brandon’s City Council repealed their ordinance that enforced bars and restaurants to only allow 50-percent capacity and 6 feet separation guidelines, but they’re still strongly encouraged.

“You’ll see face masks being worn for quite some time. Until there’s a vaccine, I think it’s just a completely new normal going forward in the city as well as the whole country,” Lundberg said.

Max Hofer: Are you worried about another surge in cases? Has that been on your mind?

Lundberg: I tell you Max, I’m always going to worry. It’s a lot of stress… just knowing for the potential for things to happen, but you can’t dwell on the worrying either. You have to move forward and do the best you can.

Despite the size of the town, being a mayor holds big responsibility, but even bigger rewards.

“Even though it’s sometimes exhausting and you don’t know what’s going to be coming at you next, I love every minute of it. That’s what we’re here for,” Menning said.

“It’s been a cool thing to be the mayor during this time,” Lundberg said.


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