The Yankton City Commission’s decision Monday night to begin a modest loosening of the COVID-19 ordinance approved nearly a month ago represents a small step forward on a journey toward something resembling normal life and normal business in this community.
However, the timing of the decision also makes it a calculated risk.
The commissioners took the advice of the city’s health board to keep the restrictions and the business closures in place until May 15. Without that approval, the emergency measures would have expired at the end of this week.
However, the commission also voted to allow some wiggle room, giving hair stylists and tanning salons, for instance, the option to open as soon as May 2.
And as these businesses choose to open — and whenever other businesses are able to unlock their doors — it’s clear that distancing measures must remain a priority to limit the spread of the coronavirus and make this transition work.
Still, this is a gamble.
This community, this state and this country in general don’t appear to be on the backside of this pandemic. Cases in both South Dakota and Nebraska are on the rise — for the latter, they are surging — and the peak looms somewhere before us, not behind us. An estimate that’s guiding Gov. Kristi Noem indicates that South Dakota’s peak now figures to be in the second week of June. Locally, officials at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital announced Monday that efforts to “bend the curve” here have pushed the peak back to around July 4; while that puts things further away, it does also lessen the potential demand on hospital beds, ventilators and other medical equipment.
So, there remains a long road ahead of us on battling this pandemic. As Noem said Tuesday during a media briefing, “We are not out of the woods yet. As I’ve said many times, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
That’s why modifying our course of action now figures to be a risk. City officials are making such a move with the knowledge that a wave of new cases and increased medical demand may be coming.
Of course, as was pointed out in Monday’s meeting, people have generally adapted well to the current situation and have embraced social distancing and isolation as essential measures. As one city commissioner noted, we’ve learned a lot in the past month, and that may give us a little more confidence in what might happen when the restrictions are loosened.
Also, it was noted that not all businesses that are currently closed are necessarily going to open immediately. The business owners are concerned about the health and safety not only of their customers but also their own employees.
Conversely, opening a store doesn’t necessarily mean customers are going to come rushing back. They’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the world through a lens of vigorous caution, and they will likely be very careful when venturing out because they’ve learned not only what to do but also what to avoid.
As we begin this transition, using what we’ve learned and taking the precautions we’ve been practicing the last several weeks is going to be of the utmost importance. More challenges will lie ahead, and it’s up to everyone — from our leaders and lawmakers right down to each of us — to remain vigilant. As Noem said Tuesday, “Ultimately, it is the people themselves who are primarily responsible for their (own) safety.”
There is a lot of economic and social rebuilding to do, and the commission’s decision Monday steers us down that path. But great care is needed because the worst may yet be in front of us.