“This is a war against COVID-19, and that means that we are all on the front lines.”
According to Yankton Mayor Nathan Johnson, that is the motive for an open letter issued by the mayors of South Dakota’s “First Class” cities Friday concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
Essentially, a call to action to the all of the state’s communities, the letter begins:
“We are writing to you with a simple ask, but one that we need everyone to take seriously. We need you to do your part. It is crucial that we are all aware of our behaviors. […] These may seem like small actions, but can make a big difference during this current surge we are experiencing in our state.”
The recommended behaviors include wearing a mask when physical distancing of six feet or more cannot be maintained, limiting social interactions to small groups, engaging in frequent handwashing and cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, and staying home if you feel sick.
Also, the mayors are asking businesses to request that employees and customers mask up, to promote physical distancing at work, to provide hand sanitizer, to conduct daily health checks, to allow sick employees to stay home and to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standards of cleaning.
“We are now experiencing a surge of cases,” Johnson told the Press & Dakotan. “There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.”
South Dakota has recorded record-breaking numbers of new cases in the weeks since school began. At the end of August there were approximately 1,500 active cases in the state. That number doubled by the end of September, and more than doubled again by mid-October. According to the Department of Health’s website, there were 7,312 active cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota as of Friday.
“We felt that we needed to show unity as community leaders who represent approximately half the population of the state,” Johnson said. “This is not a partisan issue; we are all in this together and, like good South Dakotans, we need to be neighborly and do the right thing.”
In recent months, mask wearing has become a politically charged issue on the national front.
At the start of the pandemic, Gov. Kristi Noem advocated for vulnerable populations to self-isolate and for the rest of the population to adopt a “science-based” approach to slowing the spread of the virus. According to the CDC, social distancing of six feet or more is key to slowing the coronavirus. When that’s not possible, cloth masks can offer protection from infection.
However, over the summer, Noem encouraged several large events in the state that did not advocate mask use or social distancing, including a public fireworks display at Mount Rushmore attended by President Donald Trump, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the South Dakota State Fair.
“I have expressed some disappointment that the governor has not acknowledged the efficacy of masks, that they do help reduce the spread of the virus and that we’ve never seen her wear one in public,” Johnson said. “I think we, as elected officials, need to set the example and follow the advice of the experts.
“The experts have clearly told us time and again — and as we conduct more and more studies it has been reinforced — that masks are an important tool in this fight.”
Though Clay County has been experiencing a rise in cases over the last 45 days, initiatives to stem the spread of COVID are in place and appear to be working, according to Mayor Kelsey Collier-Wise of Vermillion, who also signed the letter.
“The intent of the letter was to show unity among the non-partisan leaders of our largest communities in recognizing the recent surge and urging our citizens to continue to be safe and vigilant,” Collier said. “We know that in order to flatten the curve and keep our cities open, we need everyone to do their part to help slow the spread. The rate of increasing infections and hospitalizations is really concerning to all of us.”
The mayoral letter was published under the auspices of the South Dakota Municipal League. It was signed by Johnson, Collier-Wise and the following mayors in the state: Steve Allender, Rapid City; Dana Boke, Spearfish; Sarah Caron, Watertown; Keith Corbett, Brookings; Marshall Dennert, Madison; Bob Everson, Mitchell; Steve Harding, Pierre; Gary Harrington, Huron; Gloria Landphere, Belle Fourche; Larry Larson, Box Elder; Paul Lundberg, Brandon; Travis Schaunaman, Aberdeen; Paul Ten Haken, Sioux Falls; and Derick Wenck, Harrisburg.
“There’s no one that can just sit back and let others do the work to stop the virus,” Johnson said. “We all have to put in the work, otherwise, it will just stick around longer and have more tragic impacts.”