City ordinance extends business reopening rules

Courtesy photo: Dr. Richard Hieb addresses the Brookings City Council Tuesday night during discussion about Ordinance 20-007 to reopen businesses with rules to combat COVID-19. “We all need to be wearing masks in public,” he said. “We may not have seen the worst of it yet. We need to keep trying.”

“We need to keep trying,” doctor says

BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve Ordinance 20-007, which sets rules for businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Councilor Leah Brink was the dissenting vote.

City Manager Paul Briseno explained that the incremental reopening Resolution 20-038 was approved by the council May 4, and the first reading of the ordinance was May 4, too.

The ordinance regulates bars, restaurants, recreational facilities, gyms, theaters, salons and similar businesses and seeks to protect employees and customers from COVID-19 infection by implementing proper social distancing and hygiene practices, he said. 

The ordinance is in effect for 60 days unless the council takes action to amend, eliminate or otherwise change it, Briseno said.

Mirroring the resolution passed last week, Ordinance 20-007 includes the complete list of rules for businesses to operate, including restaurants, bars, grocery stores, casinos, gyms, recreation and other public gathering businesses limiting the number of customers to 10, or 50 percent capacity, whichever is greater, and maintaining 6 feet between customers.  

Restaurants and bars must disinfect or dispose of menus and clean condiment containers for each customer, and groups are limited to 10 people or less. Salad bars and self-service buffets are not permitted. 

Retail and grocery store shopping aisles will be marked as one-way, hand sanitizer must be available for public use, and plexiglass or similar dividers must be between customers and cashiers.

Employees must wash hands, wear masks over their mouth and nose and stay home if sick. Customers would be encouraged to stay home if not feeling well. 

Another requirement is cleaning equipment after each use by customers and employees.

Salons and barber shops need to have 6 feet of space between customers, and service is recommended by appointment only.

Theaters and similar businesses need to mark certain seats as “not available due to social distancing guidelines” to ensure compliance.

This is a partial list. If any business owners have questions about how the rules apply to their particular business, call city hall at 692-6281.

Violations of the rules may result in a fine, and multiple violations may result in further enforcement procedures, including legal action to close the business for public safety, according to both the resolution and ordinance. 

The passing of Ordinance 20-007 does not mean businesses have to open up if they are not comfortable doing so. 

The full ordinance is available on the city’s website. 

Public comments

Steve Timmerman said he had emailed the council and reiterated his questions about how the council planned to make the ordinance effective, equitable and consistent.

He asked why “all high-touch areas in public places aren’t being addressed, either, by this ordinance.”

“Significant high-touch areas like doorways aren’t being addressed,” Timmerman said, adding the ordinance excluded places like city buildings.

He claimed masks are “not being used effectively,” even at the council meeting. It was unclear to him how people in the restaurant industry would be educated and how masks would be effective and safe “for somebody who’s working where they have to cook and have clean hands and have to deal with the masks, especially in a kitchen area, where it’s really hot. It seems to be quite impractical for that service line.”

“We don’t even know that they’re starting out with clean masks,” Timmerman said, adding “we know they’re not being used correctly.”

He asked the council how the city would enforce this ordinance, including which agencies will enforce it and how it will be consistently enforced.

“Is the city gonna rely on people tattling?” Timmerman asked.

“Where do people report if they notice a concern?” he asked.

He asked if the city is looking at the mental health aspect, and what authority and expertise the city is using for their decisions. He cited a portion of the ordinance that states “’available modeling is being used,’ but it’s unclear what available modeling is being used to do this.”

Timmerman also questioned “the specific metrics that are being used to know where we’re going to be when we get to (the end of May)” and asked if the city will just keep issuing ordinances to deal with the next viral threat. 

“Overall, my admonition to the city council is instead of putting this forth as something as prescriptive – which in its current form is going to be hard to enforce, it’s inconsistent – put it forth as something educational to help educate the community so they know the right things to do but not put it in a format that’s gonna penalize the community,” Timmerman said.

Dr. Richard Hieb, MD, said he’d like to clarify a few things.

“I do know the city council has been tasked with an impossible task. And I’m glad you’re doing something; I’m glad you’re trying. And if we’re the most aggressive city council in the state, God bless you; I’m all for it,” Hieb said.

“COVID is a fluid situation; we don’t know what’s gonna happen next week. We gotta play it day-by-day. I think you’re doing that,” Hieb said.

“Mr. Timmerman asked about mental health. There’s a lot going on with mental health. There are a lot of agencies out there, a lot of things that are available. That is being addressed,” Hieb said.

“I think the biggest misconception is masks. I wear a mask; I don’t need to wear a mask here because I’m 6 feet away from everybody,” Hieb said. 

“What’s the purpose of this mask? I don’t care if you touch your mask. I don’t care what you do with your mask. The purpose of this mask, which is not an N95 mask ... This is a mask to protect other people from you,” Hieb said. 

People don’t always know when they are infected with COVID-19; yet if they cough or sneeze, they can project the virus 6 to 10 feet and spread that infection, so wearing a mask becomes important in places like grocery stores where you can’t stay 6 feet away from others, Hieb said. 

“We all need to be wearing masks in public if we can’t be 6 feet away,” Hieb said. 

It doesn’t matter if a mask is touched or gets dirty. It can be cleaned, he said, adding there is literature online to teach people how to take care of their masks and wear them properly. 

“I heard the argument last week: people aren’t doing it right, what’s the use? The use is we have to try. If we don’t try, we’ve admitted defeat,” Hieb said. 

“We could have another resurgence here in a couple of weeks. CDC predicts that we’re not supposed to (hit the peak) until the end of the month in South Dakota. So we may not have seen the worst of it yet. We need to keep trying,” Hieb said.

Answering questions

Briseno said the city will work with businesses as much as possible to see they follow the rules, but violations can be reported to the city at 692-2113 so they can be addressed and fixed.

The city works “hand-in-hand” with Brookings Health System.

“The administrator, Jason Merkley, has been working with us,” on the metrics, Briseno said. “Things are constantly moving, that whatever it is, it’s gonna have to be addressed constantly.”

The city staff is dedicated to talking through the situation daily and notify the council immediately of any changes so they can take action, he said.

Council comments

“To date, we have had 14 total confirmed cases in Brookings County and all 14, 100%, are recovered,” Brink said. 

There are 11 counties in the state with more cases than Brookings County; there are two that are tied with Brookings County, she added.

“Yet we are the fifth most populated county in South Dakota, so that says something about how we’re stacking up against others,” Brink said.

She cited Gov. Kristi Noem’s Speakout in the Register on May 6, which says the state’s plan puts the decision-making power into the hands of the people.

Brink praised the Chamber of Commerce for its work doing surveys. The latest survey came in Monday night with more than 100 businesses reporting. 

“Over 70% percent of those businesses are seeing a decrease in sales; 13% are laying off employees. A total of 48% are doing one of these three things: reducing hours, furloughing staff or laying off employees,” Brink said. 

She added about half of the businesses surveyed report that “their customers are saying that their spending is currently reduced due to income insecurity.”

About a third of the businesses said they could be contributing less to nonprofits in 2020, she said.

“When a family’s income is reduced, the family cuts out non-essential spending and focuses only on the needs and not the wants. It’s the same for businesses, as well,” Brink said.

The medical community and other experts “do not have one set of facts that we can agree upon,” she said.

“History might tell us clearly what we should have done, when we should have done it, but the reality is, like Dr. Hieb mentioned, we don’t know at this time. We can simply try our best, make the best decisions possible in an ambiguous world,” Brink said.

“But for me, the inconsistencies of this legislation, the difficulty in enforcement and the fact that I believe in our Constitutional right to freely assemble, I do not support codifying these guidelines into law. I support individuals and businesses following these guidelines as well as they can to continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Brink said.

“As guidelines, they are admirable and I encourage you all to follow them, but I do not support them as a law,” Brink said, adding she would vote no.

Mayor Keith Corbett said he didn’t like wearing a mask, but he has one in every vehicle and wears them when he goes to the store. 

“Now is not the time to start relaxing in Brookings,” he said.

“Yes, we’ve got 14 (cases) as of today. That’s 14 more than I want to have,” Corbett said.

“As the numbers continue to increase in our state, there’s no guarantees we won’t be next, so to me, this is not the time to start relaxing it,” he cautioned. 

The council has received numerous communications from employees thanking the council, saying they feel better going to work, Corbett said.

“Our job, as a council, is to protect the safety and health of the citizens of Brookings, and we’ve got to be taking that serious,” Corbett said.

“I feel we need to ease back into our economy,” Councilor Ope Niemeyer said.

“As Dr. Hieb stated, CDC doesn’t think we’re gonna hit the peak or hit the max until the end of the month or maybe first part of June. We’ll take a look at this toward the end of the month, see how we’re doing,” Niemeyer said, noting they can change or amend the ordinance before the end of the 60 days.

“I think most people use their common sense. Like Leah said, I think most people will, but this is making it basically official. And I feel that we need to do that,” Niemeyer said, adding he planned to vote in favor of the ordinance. “I still feel that we’re going in the right direction.”

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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