Brookings City Council discusses potential further mask mandate


Jacob Boyko, Reporter (He/Him)

The Brookings City Council met Tuesday, October 20 to discuss the continuation of Covid-19 prevention measures while residents highlighted the effect on citizens and local businesses.


Ordinance 20-028 is an emergency ordinance that continues the provisions put into action by Ordinance 20-010 earlier this year.


Ordinance 20-010 states that restaurants and businesses are to operate at a ten-person maximum or half of capacity, whichever is greater, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Other guidelines included a six-foot distance between chairs and tables in restaurants, social distance

spacing for lines, one-way aisles, and a mask requirement for salons and barber shops.


“Ordinance 20-010, as amended, is intended to slow the rise of positive cases and slow down the rate of infection, and therefore bears a real and substantial relationship to public health because the measures are recognized to be the best available procedures to slow the rate of transmission of COVID-19,” the proposed Ordinance 20-028 reads.


In the study session leading up to the meeting, health officials and community leaders shared information about the effectiveness of the current mandates.


According to Bonny Specker from the South Dakota State University Ethel Autism Martin Program, Brookings has had 1,196 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of Oct. 18 with 317 active cases. A sharp increase in cases began in late August and has continued into October. 


Breaking down the cases into age groups, 20-29 age group has remained the highest, but has been in slight decline over the last two weeks while the age 60-69 group has slightly increased.


In other words, cases have been going up quickly since school started. Of COVID-19 tests conducted, 28% come back positive. The World Health Organization recommends a positive test return below 5% to reopen.


Jason Merkley, CEO of Brookings Health System, spoke about the bed management plan. He stated that while there is a physical capacity for up to 80 patients, staffing problems would make it challenging. As of Tuesday, there are five Covid-19 positive patients in the Brookings Hospital.


The Brookings Chamber of Commerce polled businesses in Brookings, sharing tonight that if conditions remain the same, 25% of respondents will be out of business in six months. The validity of the question was brought into question by Council Member Tilton Byrne, who asked if

businesses believed it was the ordinance or other pandemic related issues like an  unemployment-related cause for the lack of spending in the community.


A local business owner and survey respondent shed more light on the poll conducted by the Chamber of Commerce.


“There’s a fallout that perhaps hasn’t been considered as a result of mandates like this,” the business owner said. “We’ve lost a lot of our shoppers and our diners because they don’t want to mess with masks. They’re taking their business elsewhere.”


Another Brookings resident who was against the continuation of ordinance 20-028 shared his concerns about false positives in testing and hospitals “receiving more financial gain for reporting COVID-19 than the regular flu.” He also called out two city council members, Bacon and Niemeyer, for allegedly talking to each other without wearing masks or following social distancing protocols at an event last weekend.


Ordinance 20-029, a strict proposed ordinance limiting restaurants to take-out only and closing all gyms, salons, and barber shops, was not seriously discussed at this meeting. Residents voiced their disdain for the proposal and the panic that ensued throughout the city.


Ordinance 20-029 has “created anxiety in the community and is not reflective of the appetite in the council right now,” Council Member Nick Wendell said. “Whatever action we take now needs to be sustainable.”


The city council is set to meet next Tuesday Oct. 27 for a second reading of Ordinance 20-028.