SPEARFISH — With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing throughout South Dakota, some organizations in the state are taking it upon themselves to cut through the divisive rhetoric and confusing half-truths offered by higher officials to send a clear, concise, and united message: # MaskUpSodak.
At a city council committee meeting held via Zoom Tuesday, Spearfish officials outlined how Spearfish is joining this movement and what efforts they can take to encourage folks to “Mask Up Spearfish!”
“The City has partnered with Monument Health, Black Hills State University, Spearfish School District, and Visit Spearfish, and invites all organizations, agencies, and businesses within the community to join the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19,” read a prepared statement released by the city Wednesday.
“I think what you’re going to see are radio spots from the mayor encouraging people to mask up so we can keep our schools open, so we can keep our businesses open, (and) so we can continue to treat patients in our local hospital facility,” Mike Harmon, Spearfish city administrator said during the meeting. “You’ll see direct mailers going to all residents of the city of Spearfish with informational items … we’re going to print posters that we can hand out to businesses the school district and others; driving home the “Mask Up Spearfish!” message.”
Harmon explained that the city has been in constant contact with officials from Monument Health, and the Spearfish School District, monitoring the COVID-19 situation in the area. In recent weeks Monument Health has had to divert patients to other facilities out of state because of the influx of COVID cases throughout the community and many Spearfish schools have switched Category 2 COVID measures in classrooms.
“What we took away from that conversation is a real feeling of encouragement from the hospital and the school district to help continue to slow the spread or take a little bit more of a proactive stance in our approach to messaging of COVID-19,” Harmon said. “To put together a campaign to encourage mask-wearing in Lawrence County, specifically the city of Spearfish, and really drive that message home to a greater extent than we have been doing.”
“This is what I think many of us were afraid of in April; it’s what’s happening now,” Councilman Rob Herrmann said in response to the growing case numbers in Spearfish. “We are maxed out and we are in that dire situation regardless of what some people want to say.”
Herrmann said it’s important for the city to present a clear message to the citizens and business in Spearfish, not telling them what they need to do, but showing them what can be done.
“We’ve got a couple of serious misinformation campaigns, I apologize if I offend anybody, coming from the current president, coming from the governor, there’s almost a mocking of masks,” he said. “So the idea that if these stores and these workers could see us coming to their aid if you will; not mandating it at all, but just that they can see that the city is pushing it and greatly encouraging it.”
The committee members all echoed the importance of the campaign and agreed it would be a good direction for the city to head.
“I don’t think we should mandate it, but the campaign is a very good idea and staff coming up with that, I think that’s an awesome thing,” Councilwoman Pam Jacobs said.
But the city isn’t putting the burden of social responsibility solely on the shoulders of the citizens. Along with encouraging mask-wearing, the city will also begin limiting events that encourage large group gatherings where it would be difficult to remain socially distanced.
“I think it’s time we take some socially responsible action and step up our messaging and look at restricting some of these larger group events,” Harmon said.
The committee members agreed that it would be somewhat hypocritical for the city to take a firm stance on one aspect of infection prevention and ignore another.
“I really like the idea of a campaign just to encourage the masks; I don’t really like the idea of a mandate, myself right now. I think it makes prudent sense to me to just limit the large the events as well,” committee chair, and president of the council Dan Hodgs said.
Councilman Larry Klarenbeek also agreed with the direction of the city to become more vocal about mask-wearing, but urged caution on taking any further action preemptively. He suggested that the open mass testing event, which will take place in Spearfish Nov. 21-22 could offer a more accurate depiction of what the COVID numbers actually look like in our area.
“I think that more and more people do need to make every effort on more masks … but I’d hate to see things cancelled and I think we really need to wait for the testing that’s going to occur and just see what the numbers say,” Klarenbeek said.
Rather than cancel any events that are already scheduled, the committee recommended postponing or denying any future event requests for the foreseeable future, until the pandemic can be reevaluated. In particular, the committee discussed how the city should handle the annual Holidazzle event put on by the Downtown Business Association. The event has already been approved and scheduled, but attracts hundreds of people from all over the Black Hills and could be seen as a virus spreader event.
“The Holidazzle, I’m kind of in between,” Jacobs said. “It is an outside event (and) everything’s unknown right now, but I do feel that any events that are scheduled now should stay… anything going forward would have to be on what the numbers show, the testing and kind of go from there.”
Councilman Marty Clark suggested rather than calling off the holiday parade, the city could give the Downtown Business Association the opportunity to come up with its own solutions.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t reach out and try to see if they can come up with additional information to try to promote mask wearing for that event and see what they come back with for an answer by next week,” Clark suggested.
Councilman Herrmann, who also sits on the Downtown Business Association’s board, suggested taking it a step further.
“I would actually maybe like to see them wear masks on the floats,” he said.
Clark baulked at stipulating any requirements for the participants, but did think that the Holidazzle event could serve as an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate with each other responsibly.
“I don’t know, we asked them not to throw candy at the Fourth of July parade and there was candy getting thrown left and right,” he said. “I don’t care how much you talk to everybody there’s still going to be people that are not going to follow the rule, so I think just reiterating over and over and over again how important it is (to wear a mask) and just hope that people are responsible on their own.”
The committee’s recommendation to limit future events in Spearfish, as well as how the Holidazzle event should be handled will be discussed at the next regular council meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday via Zoom. All city council and committee meetings are open to the public, for information on attending these meeting via Zoom visit, www.cityofspearfish.com/AgendaCenter, or call the city administration office at 642-1354.
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