City Eyes Strict Measures: Commission Looks To Curtail Gatherings Amid Virus Crisis
24 Mar 2020
The City of Yankton is on the path to implementing some of the most significant actions in the name of public health it has taken in a century.
During a special meeting of the City Commission Tuesday afternoon, the board acted on the recommendations of the recently appointed City Health Board and passed an ordinance 9-0 that will restrict a number of private businesses within the city limits while shuttering a number of others as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens at home and abroad.
Tuesday’s meeting was held digitally once again and lasted nearly four hours with a number of questions left on the live YouTube feed.
The ordinance was intended to be valid at midnight March 26, but it requires a second reading in order for it to go into effect. This second reading will occur at a special meeting of the board on Monday, March 30, with the ordinance in full effect after publication on March 31.
The closures are intended to last through May 1 — in accordance with the date that Gov. Kristi Noem set to reopen schools — with the option of extending it through June 8 at the latest. On this date, a new ordinance would need to be drafted and voted upon, if the emergency merits.
Yankton Mayor Nathan Johnson said there are many weeks of crisis ahead.
“It’s expected that infections will peak in May, so we’ve got a good eight weeks of this getting worse before it gets better,” he said. “(Noem) told us that, whatever decisions we make, they need to be sustainable for at least eight weeks.”
He also noted a number of other local closures throughout the state that had been implemented in Rapid City, Deadwood and Beadle County.
Under the ordinance, businesses were separated into four categories:
• In the first category, all restaurants, bars, coffee houses and similar business would have to close dine-in options, but would be able to continue with carryout, drive-thru or delivery options.
• Closures would include all recreation facilities, health and fitness clubs, fraternal organizations, athletic and weight training facilities, barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, entertainment venues and casinos, among others.
The ordinance would not affect grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, food pantries, daycares, outdoor parks, vital workplaces and convenience stores.
• Also as part of the resolution, communal gathering of 10 or more people are prohibited. Incidental gatherings that may happen in stores, common areas and manufacturing areas would not be counted.
Yankton Chief of Police John Harris said the department will take a forgiving approach to enforcement.
“We’re going to start out with education, then warnings and — the last resort — do violations, and those won’t be direct,” Harris said. “We’re going to take a very easy approach to start out to get people to comply.”
Violation of the ordinance would be considered a Class II misdemeanor.
Johnson said that implementing the ordinance is nothing that anyone on the commission wants to do.
“None of us ran on platforms of hurting businesses in our community,” he said. “This is really going against everything we hoped to accomplish as leaders in our community.”
The second reading of the ordinance will be during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
On Tuesday, the board also voted 8-0 to move the April 14 municipal election to coincide with the June 2 primary election. Commissioner Stephanie Moser abstained, citing her candidacy for one of the three open seats.
“In light of the fact that we’re passing an ordinance that encourages people not to gather and effectively shutting down businesses, it seems hypocritical that the city would be encouraging everybody to come down to turn in absentee ballots and or line up to vote on April 14 in the midst of this crisis,” City Attorney Ross Den Herder said.
He said that state statute allows the city to piggyback its election on the primary election. Since this election is also administered by the county, the city must gain the consent of the County Commission and share in the cost of the election.
The next regularly scheduled County Commission meeting is April 7.
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