Monument Health asks public to wear masks

Courtesy photo

SPEARFISH — An ordinance and a resolution mandating mask wearing throughout Spearfish has been drafted, awaiting action by city council but officials are hesitant to pull the trigger.

That announcement was made Monday at the Spearfish City Council meeting, though no action was taken.

In the meantime healthcare workers throughout the community are urging the public take an active role in fighting the spread of COVID-19 by participating the city’s new “Mask Up Spearfish” campaign.

“We are at a point where we would like to really emphasis and ask the public for help as much as possible to help us flatten things out,” said Thomas Worsley, president of the Monument Health Spearfish Hospital and the Northern Hills market.

Worsley explained that the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases has swamped the Spearfish hospital.

“We’re at an unprecedented time right now in terms of the volume of what we’re seeing. The Spearfish hospital in particular has been operating at capacity or very close there to over that last several weeks,” he said. “From time to time there is a need for a patient to leave the region, because there is not a hospital bed available.”

Patients with maladies other than COVID-19 are being diverted as well, which Worsley said can put an added strain on the patient as well as their families.

“They’ve got to have a family member transported (with them), likely in a scenario where they can’t even be in the hospital with them,” he explained. “So you start putting that together and you can see that it is a hardship for families.”

For months the direction for state health and local officials has been to follow CDC guidelines for infection prevention, while they keep a vigilant eye on hospitalization numbers to determine when further action would be needed. Worsley said we are at that point.

“When we shut things down last spring, we observed it from a distance, but we are definitely feeling it right now. … We are at a point that we’ve all heard about over the past several months,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough that we really need the public’s help, partnership and cooperation in flattening this thing out.”

How to help

“We advocate very strongly for masking,” Worsley said. “We understand that topic has become polarizing, but right now it is something that should be a minimum.”

Another issue being seen in our own community is the number of caregivers who are contracting the virus and not able to provide service under quarantine. Worsley said at any given time there are 20 healthcare workers in Spearfish alone who are out with COVID-19; and as a testament for the efficacy of mask wearing, these care workers are not getting it from their patients.

“We don’t find that the caregivers are contracting the virus at work, and we owe that a lot to the fact that our caregivers are mandatorily masking when they’re at work. For the majority of those cases, they’re contracting it outside of work and bringing it with them,” Worsley said. “Masking works.”

Caring for the community

Dr. Margaret Becker, who works at the Monument Health Spearfish Clinic, was also on hand to help plead the case for community involvement.

“We intend to care for every sick person who needs us, but we are concerned about the abilities of us in the clinic and the hospital and the entire system to be able to care for this many patients,” Becker said. “The number of cases is just very worrying.”

Becker explained the very logical flaw in waiting until the point of hospitalization as the standard for action.

“The natural development when we see an increase in the number of cases is that we see an increase in the number of sick patients, quite sick. Sick enough to need us,” she said. “A small number of the patients (need to be treated by a doctor), but if you have enough cases it becomes a significant amount of people and of that, another further percentage that require hospitalization and some of whom become really critically ill.”

The domino effect described by Becker starts with people who themselves are at a relatively low critical risk from COVID-19. No one is immune to the virus, but medical experts still maintain that the majority of people who contract it will show mild symptoms. This makes it difficult for people to understand that just because they may catch COVID-19 and be fine, the person they pass it on to may not fair so well. This is trend Becker said she’s seeing played out in the patients she’s seeing in Spearfish.

“Unfortunately they’re being infected by their friends and family who are infected and don’t know they are, and they’re unintentionally spreading the virus at this point,” she said. “So we don’t see very sick 30-year-olds but we’re seeing very sick 70-year-olds who have 30-year-old children.”

The message to remain vigilant of not only signs of the virus, but also who might be putting at risk, was especially emphasized with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up.

“We expect that there will be an additional spike beyond what we’re seeing already that will come from that,” Worsley said. “The most important things that we can do right now are the masking, the distancing, and really the awareness. I think there are still some in the community that are not aware of where things are at right now.”

Spearfish takes action

Last Wednesday, the city began an awareness campaign to encourage wearing masks, an effort Mayor Dana Boke said several cities across the state are starting to make.

“So it is not just something that we are trying to take on here in Spearfish, but it is going on across the state,” Boke said. “It’s not going away, and we’re not alone in needing something to change and needing everyone to do their part.”

Boke said she learned during a call with fellow mayors, that several municipalities are discussing implementing a mask mandate. Although she didn’t expect the council to make any kind of a decision whether Spearfish should take that step, she did encourage them to consider it as an option for future talks.  

City Administrator Mike Harmon informed the council that in order to expedite matters, should the need arise; City Attorney Ashley McDonald had drafted both an ordinance as well as a resolution outlining a mask mandate for the city of Spearfish.

“We’re ready to go on our end should the council direct us to go there,” Harmon said.

The issue of enforcing such a measure has been the number one deterrent for many cities from implementing a mask mandate. Harmon said he sat down with McDonald and Pat Rotert, public safety director to devise a solution to the enforcement problem.

“While officers pointing to people and writing citations for not wearing a mask isn’t probably a wise idea, we can certainly rely on the residents of Spearfish to help police this,” Harmon said. “If a business owner calls us because somebody’s not complying with the mandate we’re happy to help follow the trespass process and assist that person away from the property.”

The discussion to adopt a mask mandate was tabled for a future meeting, instead the city will continue strongly encouraging residents to “Mask Up,” and consider the well being of their neighbors.

“That’s the one way that we can support our schools, that we want to see them stay open, it’s the one way we can support our businesses, it’s the one thing that we can do right now,” Councilman Rob Herrmann said. “People talk about American freedom, well, there’s also American responsibility and especially in this community we look out for one another.”

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