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Local Mask Mandates Take Shape in SD


Friday, October 30, 2020   

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Calls have amplified for South Dakota to issue a statewide mask rule in light of surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. As that debate plays out, some local governments have decided on mandates of their own - or are considering them.

Throughout the pandemic, the City of Brookings has taken steps to slow the novel coronavirus spread, including business restrictions. And this week, it extended a requirement of face coverings for businesses and indoor public spaces.

While health experts say having a statewide mandate would send a consistent message, Brookings City Council member Nick Wendell said he appreciates having local control.

"We had to put measures in place we knew the majority of our community in Brookings supported," said Wendell. "That may not look the same in every corner of the state."

Wendell said they're not just gauging community support. They're hearing from health agencies and providers.

The Brookings Health System warns that local COVID-19 hospitalizations could soon double. Rapid City has also adopted a mask rule for city buildings, and a proposal is in the works in Sioux Falls.

Gov. Kristi Noem has resisted a statewide mandate, saying the decision to wear a mask should be up to individuals.

Other political leaders who resist mask mandates question their effectiveness as novel coronavirus cases rise across much of the country.

Wendell said these steps aren't perfect, but he draws a parallel between when their mask rule was first adopted in September, and a temporary slowdown in COVID activity.

"Across cities and states throughout the country that, where there was a higher percentage of folks wearing masks and practicing social distancing, those were the places they were able to keep the spread of the virus under control," said Wendell.

Health groups such as the Mayo Clinic say wearing masks has proven to be effective. Public health leaders say one of the biggest problems right now is people letting their guard down in smaller, private gatherings.

Earlier this week, groups including the State Medical Association and some health-care providers launched an awareness campaign, encouraging South Dakotans to wear masks.

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