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COVID-19: Brookings Vote Illustrates Divide Between Certain States, Cities

In states with spikes in coronavirus cases, some are rolling back reopening efforts. While South Dakota cases are relatively low by comparison, the state largely has avoided hard restrictions on the business community during the crisis. (Adobe Stock)
In states with spikes in coronavirus cases, some are rolling back reopening efforts. While South Dakota cases are relatively low by comparison, the state largely has avoided hard restrictions on the business community during the crisis. (Adobe Stock)
July 13, 2020

BROOKINGS, S.D. -- Most of South Dakota has been open for business during the latest phase of the pandemic. But one city has opted to extend business restrictions amid concerns about rising case numbers.

The Brookings City Council voted last week to keep in place limits on various businesses, including bars, restaurants and gyms. For at least two more months, they can't exceed 10 customers or 50% capacity, whichever is greater.

Council member Nick Wendell said COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the area, and added that now would be the worst time to let restrictions expire.

"I'd like to think the work we did in March and April and May and June have had something to do with why we have had relatively low number of cases," Wendell said. "We are seeing those case counts increase as folks lift some of their own practices. And I think as a community, we have to reinforce those restrictions."

Wendell was responding to concerns from local business owners, who predict more financial harm with extra federal unemployment benefits due to expire.

Other South Dakota cities have allowed a gradual easing of restrictions, while Gov. Kristi Noem has touted a "hands-off" approach in working with the business community during the crisis. Noem pointed to the state's low hospitalization numbers, but health experts say low testing rates create concerns about community spread of the virus.

Business owners such as Jael Thorpe have said they feel the city is making these decisions based on emotion, and not objective information. She suggested the current approach in Brookings is creating too much uncertainty for the business community.

"Business leaders need to know if they should renew their leases," Thorpe said. "Because if this happens a year from now, that's not sustainable."

The city council has said it's relying on data from a variety of sources, including the state health department, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. It said with mixed messaging from other levels of government, it's up to local leaders to make tough decisions.

In Iowa, some cities have expressed frustration when state government blocked them from enforcing mask mandates.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD