BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — As Rapid City continues to debate implementing a mask mandate, one South Dakota town which has had one in effect for nearly three months, now have numbers proving a mandate is working to slow the rate of COVID-19. In “COVID-19 Beyond the Numbers,” we see how the Brookings mask mandate has worked and what it means for both public health and the economy.

Like most mask mandates proposed in South Dakota cities, it didn’t come without opposition.

“I think it should be everyone’s right whether they wear one or not,” Brookings Resident, David Olso, said on September 15th.

“I just don’t think the City should infringe on our rights and tell us what we can and can’t do,” Brookings resident, Alicia Springer, said on September 9th.

A mask mandate has been in effect in Brookings, SD since Sept. 8th

In the end, the Brookings City Council approved the mask mandate ordinance and extended it until the end of this month.

Brookings City Councilor Nick Wendell knew everyone wouldn’t follow it, but hoped most would.

“That we would build a culture in Brookings that really normalized wearing masks, particularly when you were in an indoor space—that it would just become a part of our regular routine in the community,” Wendell said.

Now, the number of COVID-19 cases is proving that masks, along with social distancing and good hand hygiene, can make a difference.

“In the last week we had the lowest rate. Since the beginning of the pandemic we had the lowest rate,” Bonny Specker said.

SDSU Epidemiologist Bonny Specker collects COVID-19 data for the City of Brookings.

Out of ten counties with the most populated cities in South Dakota, Brookings County had the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases at the end of November, with 74 positive cases per 100,000 people.

Chart courtesy of SDSU Epidemiologist Bonny Specker

“People say well, you have this mask mandate, but you still have cases. But you have to realize the mask mandate is for the city of Brookings. The data is for the county of Brookings. It’s not like the city’s isolated, we have people coming in and out of the city all the time,” Specker said.

Wendell: We have had peaks and valleys in terms of positive cases in Brookings County. COVID didn’t go away here. But we certainly worked together to slow the spread and lift some of the burden on health care workers.
Kennecke: And it may have saved some lives?
Wendell: If we can control the number of cases in a community, we can minimize hospitalization and ultimately we can minimize the number of preventable COVID deaths.

Wendell says cooperation by the City, University and Brookings school district all implementing mask rules have made it possible.

“If students went home and they couldn’t continue in-person learning this fall or spring, that would have a tremendous negative effect on our economy. If any of our manufacturing plants had to close, particularly for our hourly workforce, that could have a tremendous negative impact. So we had not just a public health interest, but an economic interest to do what we could in Brookings to slow the spread,” Wendell said.

While the Brookings mask mandate is set to expire at the end of December, Wendell says with a long winter ahead of us, Brookings should keep the ordinance in place because it’s working. The Brookings City Council will consider another extension later this month.