Mayor Allender pushes for Rapid City mask mandate

Rapid City hasn’t made a call yet. Allender is calling a Council meeting Thursday to “contemplate a mask mandate.”
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Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 1:59 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - UPDATE 5 p.m. Nov. 17

Today marks the one year anniversary since the first COVID-19 case was reported in China. As the pandemic rages on and case numbers continue to rise in South Dakota, Rapid City could see some immediate changes.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender said a mask mandate was not on the table. But recently, that changed. A month ago, he strongly encouraged businesses to put in their own mandates and a few weeks ago he implemented mandatory masks in all city buildings. And now the city council is looking to extend that mandate across town.

“I believe the Rapid City common council is going to convene as early as this Thursday night where they will contemplate a city-wide mask mandate for Rapid City. I think it’s time,” said Allender. “This is a virus who doesn’t care your political affiliation, doesn’t care what church you go to, doesn’t care if you’re man or woman. This is a virus whose job it is is to spread to other hosts.”

Exponential growth in Coronavirus cases along with potential impact to the health care system factored into the decision. Schools are impacted greatest by the spread where ten percent of school staff are quarantined.

“As you can imagine,” said Lori Simons, RCAS Superintendent. “That makes it very challenging for us to staff our classrooms, to staff our schools, our busses, our food sites, etc.”

RCAS is seeing a large portion of their health staff sick or quarantining, a trend that Monument Health is seeing as well. Dr. Shankar Kurra with Monument says increased COVID cases could mean choosing who gets care.

“We have to talk about who do we care for first and how do we do that,” said Kurra. “And that has happened in New York City as you saw in April and we don’t want that to happen here in the West River.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Mayor Allender said he wouldn’t implement a mask mandate. Now he’s encouraging one.

“It’s okay to require masks for people to come into your building,” said Allender. “You’re only keeping people safer and we are talking about this ladies and gentlemen, this. We’re not talking about an iron lung, not talking about a ball and chain, not talking about a tattoo on your lip, we’re not talking about anything but a little piece of fabric that can cover your mouth and nose.”

A special city council session was approved for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. That’s when the first reading of a city-wide mask ordinance is being brought to the council by Mayor Allender and city council president Laura Armstrong.

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges in South Dakota, discussions of a mask mandate have only picked up steam in Rapid City.

On Tuesday, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, along with Rapid City Area Schools Superintendent Lori Simons and Monument Health doctor Shankar Kurra addressed community spread in a press conference.

RCAS and Monument Health are struggling with staffing. As of Tuesday, RCAS staff members comprise 35% of the school district’s 158 active cases, Simons said.

“Currently, more than 10% of our staff is not able to work because they have either tested positive or are in quarantine,” Simons said. "I think the tipping point for us was that dramatic increase in total staff in five days going from 105 to 180 staff in quarantine. That got us to a tipping point where we were hearing from principals, ‘I can’t staff my classrooms.'”

With so many staff members out, the function of the district is challenging, Simon said. Dr. Kurra said Monument Health is “at capacity.”

Rapid City hasn’t made a call yet. Allender is calling a Council meeting Thursday to “contemplate a mask mandate."

“I think it’s time,” Allender said. “...We’re here between a rock and a hard place and running out of options.”

Allender also quoted a Forbes article placing South Dakota as the riskiest state to visit.

Enforcement is going to be a challenge, the mayor said. Allender hopes it won’t be an issue and expects businesses will do their part.

Right now, masks are only required in city buildings. Sioux Falls is also considering a mask mandate, while the South Dakota cities of Huron and Brookings have put mandates into effect.

Allender is asking for public comments to be submitted by the meeting. While the meeting doesn’t have an official time, Black Hills FOX News will update you accordingly.

Any comment can be submitted here.

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