BROOKINGS – City Manager Paul Briseno said he believes mask-wearing is decreasing the spread of COVID in the community and backed that up with numbers at the Brookings City Council meeting Tuesday.
Brookings resident Bradley Walker had questions about the COVID thresholds and moving to Phase 4. Brookings is currently in Phase 3. Phase 4, a “new normal,” would allow businesses and individuals to go back to normal operations, with CDC recommendations but no occupancy limits.
“If and when we do meet those requirements to move to Phase 4, when will that take place? So theoretically, if we reach the levels of acceptance this Friday, would it take a whole ’nother two weeks to have you guys have another council meeting to move … go forward into the Phase 4 or would that just happen immediately, would it automatically kick in?” Walker asked.
“The way the thresholds are written, they’re more or less a guideline, not specific triggers,” Briseno said.
What the council should be looking at is how long the numbers are in place before making a move, he said.
“You have to look at the specific metrics,” Briseno said, mentioning the level of testing. “You really have to look, not just at the surface, but further detail.”
You have to keep track 14 days running and consider what’s going on in the area, Briseno said.
He mentioned the city produces a weekly YouTube video and “accepts many of these questions that you’re asking” and it can go into more detail than he could.
The video can be viewed at cityofbrookings.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2973, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/cityofbrookings, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/cityofbrookings online. If anyone would like a topic discussed or has a question, they can email [email protected]
Opening up businesses
Walker then asked Councilor Nick Wendell about a statement Wendell had made about masks being pro-economic recovery.
“I believe someone on this council should make an amendment to rescind these limits on businesses. Let them open up at a full capacity. If the masks are the answer, and the masks are required, then why don’t you let the people have their full capability of operating their businesses normally again?” Walker asked.
Councilor Patty Bacon said Jill Spindler from Webster had called her at home “to thank our community.”
Bacon reported that Spindler said she typically shops in Sioux Falls, but didn’t feel safe there. She decided to give Brookings a try.
“She got here and everyone was wearing masks. And every business she went into, every employee was wearing a mask. She said, ‘I felt so safe, and I can tell you I am now going to be a permanent shopper in Brookings. I don’t need to go anywhere else,’” Bacon said.
Briseno said his update was from information from the state Department of Health, professionals from South Dakota State University, the hospital and clinics in the area.
Brookings County currently has 116 active cases, according to the SDDOH. “The last time I gave this report, Brookings had 195 (active) cases, so down quite substantially, which is nice to see,” Briseno said.
There has been another death due to COVID, for a total of two, he said. As of Wednesday, there have been 704 positive cases, and 586 of those people have recovered in Brookings County. As of Wednesday, 4,317 people have tested negative in the county.
“Today, the state is at 25%, while Brookings is at 19% positive,” Briseno said.
Across the state, a record was set for hospital admissions in one day, he added.
Brookings County is still in substantial community spread, Briseno said, referring to a slide in his presentation.
“The 14-day analysis realizes Brookings is doing a much better job than the state at controlling the epidemic since the mask mandate,” Briseno said, adding test results are about four to seven days out.
Last week, the state gave the public a glimpse into the age demographics of who has had COVID in Brookings County, Briseno said, referring to a slide as of Sept. 14, which showed 20-29-year-olds had 365 positive tests; the next closest were 10-19-year-olds with 82. The 30-39-year-olds had 50; 40-49-year-olds had 37; 50-59-year-olds had 25; 60-69-year-olds had 13; 70-79-year-olds had 7; and those 80 and older had 6.
He’s been told the city will get another snapshot next week.
Still Phase 3
The city is still in Phase 3, which limits many businesses to 50% occupancy and requires employees to wear masks. The mask mandate is still in place until early November.
The council approved a new fee schedule during the meeting, adjusting fees for COVID-19 violations. It did drop the fee from $200 down to $50, plus court costs, for a first offense, Briseno said, adding the police are focusing on educating and warnings.
“The guidelines for moving between phases have all been triggered, with the exceptions of hospitalizations,” Briseno said.
Many entities in the community are meeting weekly, such as the Chamber, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Brookings Economic Development Corporation, hospital, schools and non-profits with the city to educate the public, Briseno said.
A program was made available this week for businesses to have signage and masks for customers. Masks will also be available to the public at the City & County Government Center and other city holdings, like Dakota Nature Park.
“There are a number of private efforts underway to help hear the voices of those impacted by COVID and assist with the mask efforts,” Briseno said.
Councilor Leah Brink commented she was glad to see the marketing effort; she’s heard from businesses which said those types of things should have been in place when the mask mandate passed. Some of the information was available to Chamber members, but not everyone is a member of the Chamber, she added.
Briseno said all the information, including the marketing information and COVID and threshold reports, are available on the city’s website, which is available to all.
Councilor Joey Collins referred to Walker’s question regarding businesses opening up to 100% capacity if the mask mandate is in place, saying it’s what he envisioned.
Collins asked where the council sees the future going.
“Where we want to get to, so we can give them, like the business owners, some kind of hope,” Collins said.
“I’d be willing to entertain that, at a future meeting,” Brink said.
Mayor Keith Corbett said it was a good subject for a study session.
Briseno said the council would have to look at renewing the existing ordinances in October, making it a good time to have that conversation. Councilors can decide then if they want to renew everything, or adjust things, according whether the numbers have changed.
Brink commented that people coming into the community to shop is great, but she’s heard the opposite from a resident that since the mandate went into effect, “his family has taken $8,000 of spending out of our community in favor of other communities and online shopping, just because of the actions that we’ve taken.”
“We just need to be honest about that part of it, too. So, there’s a ying and a yang with these things,” Brink said, adding they needed to keep the spread low, but help the businesses, too.
Wendell responded to Collins’ question.
“From the initial passage of any of these ordinances, we have always had the mindset that they are temporary and that we would continue to monitor the thresholds that we’ve made very public,” Wendell said.
“In my opinion, those kind of conversations are always on the table,” Wendell said.
“I think back to Paul’s earlier point: a short-term blip cannot drive our decisions or we’re gonna set ourselves back, so I think we have to be in it for the long haul, knowing that there will have to be some sustained movement in the numbers or we’re gonna be right back where we started, and have made the last couple of weeks not worth the work we’ve all put in together,” Wendell said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]