“An empty gesture”: Sioux Falls, South Dakota approves mask mandate
11/19/2020 // Divina Ramirez // Views

South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, recently passed a mask mandate on Nov. 17 after six councilors voted in favor of the proposal. However, Councilor Greg Nietzert, who was one of the two who voted against the mandate, noted that it was nothing but an “empty gesture.”

Neitzert had voted in favor of amendments to the mandate prior to its approval. He stated that he sought to make the mandate as “weak and ineffectual” as he could, saying that he wanted to “neuter” it.

The city council’s meeting for the approval of the proposed mask mandate lasted more than five hours, spilling into the next morning. Prior to this, the council had discussed a proposal for a similar mask mandate last week, which was ultimately rejected after Mayor Paul TenHaken cast a tie-breaking vote against it.

But just shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, TenHaken said he was ready to support the new proposal after state health experts and an entire hospital system expressed their support. Regardless, Nietzert warned that the new mask mandate is “toothless,” citing the lack of penalty for non-compliance.

In addition, Nietzert also criticized how its enforcement would be left to business owners, who he said, already had the ability to ask customers to wear masks in the first place.

“You know who’s going to be stuck enforcing it? Businesses, which they can already do that if they want to,” added Nietzert. “If you’re for mandates, you’re not getting anything tonight. If you’re against mandates, you’re going to be vilified.”


No federal support

Even with South Dakota’s statewide mask mandate, Gov. Kristi Noem showed no signs of budging on her firm stance against mask mandates, remaining steadfast instead in her hands-off approach to handling the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, much to the displeasure of critics and physicians.

South Dakota has had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the U.S. in recent weeks. But that changed on Tuesday, when the South Dakota Department of Health reported only 1,000 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths, indicating a positive trend.

With the state’s COVID-19 deaths starting to dwindle, Noem reiterated that local authorities have the “flexibility” to implement mask mandates based on the needs of their constituents.

For instance, Sioux Falls’ recent decision to implement a mask mandate reflects the needs of their community. But Rapid City can make a decision on mask mandates that is entirely different from that of Sioux Falls, while Lemmon in Perkins County can also make a decision completely different from that of Rapid City.

“I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate just looking to make people feel good,” said Noem, alluding to persistent calls for a statewide mask mandate from medical groups. She also pointed out that the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge even in states with mask mandates in place, thus suggesting that statewide mask mandates are not the solution to curbing the spread of the virus.

Strong individual responsibility

Meanwhile, in neighboring North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum rolled out a series of new mitigation measures, including a statewide mask mandate, on Nov. 13. Burgum’s decision came after much hesitance and pressure from medical professionals, some of which criticized Burgum for his late response.

But like Noem, Burgum had his own reasons for refusing to enforce a statewide mask mandate. Burgum even acknowledged at a press conference this month that his advisors pushed him for “more mitigation sooner.”

However, Burgum added that while he and his advisors shared the common goal of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, they diverged when it came to their preferred means of getting there.

“Do you get there with the heavy hand of government or a strong reliance on individual responsibility?” asked Burgum, alluding to his belief in the individual responsibility of North Dakotans, including his own resistance to issuing a statewide mask mandate. (Related: Kansas using doctored data to justify mask mandates.)

But it appears that Burgum should have just stuck with the former. “There has been way too much happy talk. The situation has been much more serious than has been discussed,” said Stephen McDonough, hinting at his disapproval of the mandate. McDonough is a former official of the North Dakota Department of Health.

Meanwhile, Joshua Wynne and Paul Carson, who serve as leading advisors on the state's pandemic response, claimed they were not consulted about a statewide mask ordinance even as they discussed mask policies with health department officials over the past few months.

Read the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.

Sources include:




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