First, let’s make this clear: The general, gradual easing of the COVID-19 restrictions in South Dakota should not be confused as a sign that the coronavirus pandemic is subsiding. According to Gov. Kristi Noem and state health officials, the easing of restrictions — in fact, the entire effort to “bend the curve” — is based on hospital/medical capacity, not on the state of the virus’s spread or the lessening of the danger it poses.
So, in that respect, it’s wise that both the Yankton City Commission and Yankton County Commission are taking careful approaches in terms of returning their meeting formats to something approaching normal.
Since late March, both boards have been operating their meetings under emergency measures. For the city, it’s meant meetings conducted almost exclusively via video streaming; at first, the RTEC facility was available for the public to observe and participate in meetings, but that was eventually closed and audiences could participate on YouTube. Meanwhile, the County Commission has conducted meetings with limited attendance in keeping with distancing measures while also livestreaming the meetings.
Although Noem’s emergency measure for dealing with COVID-19 expires May 31, there are indications that neither the city nor county are eager to return to previous practices just yet.
“I hate to say (we’re getting) ’back to normal’ because I don’t think we’ll be there for some time,” County Commission chairperson Cheri Loest told the Press & Dakotan.
The County Commission will likely allow more people in the commission chamber at the Yankton County Government Center, but it will still observe distancing protocols. The meetings will likely continue to be livestreamed.
“We’ll maintain six feet of distance in the commission room itself,” she said. “In fact, many of the chairs have been removed because we also use that location for absentee voting. We encourage folks to stay away from each other. We encourage them to wear masks when they come to commission meetings.”
As for City Commission meetings, City Manager Amy Leon said they will still be conducted remotely for the time being.
“After May 31, our understanding is we do need to provide a physical location,” Leon added. “We can still meet by teleconference or online, but we have to provide a physical location.”
So, neither the city nor the county will be getting back to their old routines for quite a while.
And those are smart moves.
There are still a lot of unknowns with this virus. Nationally, the infection and death rates have slowed slightly but are still terribly high. South Dakota’s cases are rising and will continue to rise as testing ramps up. Yankton County itself is seeing a recent rise in cases, which is probably not unexpected given the warming weather and the increase in things to do, plus the urge to do something that feels normal again.
The actions of the city and county are reminders that precaution is still paramount in this ongoing coronavirus battle. If nothing else, the two commissions are setting good examples for the rest of us to remain on our guard, for the COVID-19 episode is still far from over.