Yankton residents got a glimpse of two very distinct views regarding mask mandates Monday.
In chronological order, it played out this way:
• At 5 p.m., the Yankton School Board convened in a short special session to unanimously endorse a letter urging the City Commission to enact a mask mandate to thwart the spread of COVID-19. The board pointed not only to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding masks, but also to its own experiences. The Yankton School District (YSD) has operated with a mask mandate since the school year started in August, and it has mostly been successful;
• An hour later, the Yankton City Commission met in a work session prior to its regular meeting in order to discuss mask options. A majority of the commissioners were reticent to impose a mandate, especially one with penalties. In the regular meeting, the board voted to end discussions on masking options and instead considered pursuing a $38,000 effort to educate the public on the importance of mask wearing.
Thus, the city decided it may want to pursue mask education, while the educators, who have three months of experience with mask mandates, called on the city to take that step, too.
Meanwhile, the toll of the coronavirus on Yankton County climbs. There were 46 new infections reported Tuesday, giving the county 625 new cases this month, an increase of 67%.
Franky, the City Commission’s decision would be viewed as practical if it was still last March or April, when the COVID-19 pandemic really began to impact our lives. But now, with cases climbing dramatically across the state and especially in Yankton County, the commission wants to educate people on something they already know. And make no mistake, those who oppose a temporary mask mandate aren’t unaware of what the CDC is saying or of what the daily Department of Health updates (which are mostly lagging indicators of the problem at hand) are describing. They know the score. Instead, they view the mandate as an infringement on their rights — which, in this case, would be their right to potentially infect others.
This takes us back to the school board’s discussion. YSD’s mask policy has worked within its walls, but it’s also an island in a county with considerable community spread.
“We have found, within the school district, that the masks have been very beneficial and, to date, we have found that almost all infections are coming from outside in,” School Board President Sarah Carda said.
According to the letter the board approved, “Over 99% of the COVID-19 cases among students and staff in our school tracing are coming from community spread. We believe this could be significantly mitigated by implementing a community mask requirement.”
But the City Commission also looked at the enforceability issues with a mandate, as well as the pushback from opponents. Some of that was fielded Monday night via YouTube, including one person who accused the commissioners of being communists for even considering such a mandate.
So, the commissioners settled on a “middle course,” which is to continue what the state and city have done since the pandemic began: to educate and encourage. To date, that hasn’t worked well, as more than 800 South Dakotans who have passed away from COVID-related issued might attest.
But, since we’re here again, we must pray for the best with this renewed educational push and plead with people to be good students. Do it for others — your family, your friends — if not for yourself. Exercise your freedom to protect those you love. For goodness sake, mask up.