City extends restrictions to Sept. 1

Jason Ferguson
Custer’s ordinance and resolutions that declare a public health emergency due to COVID-19, limit public gatherings and modify how city business can be conducted will be extended by the Custer City Council, pending a second reading at the council’s next meeting. The first reading of a new ordinance to extend restrictions was passed by the council at its regular Monday evening meeting.
The council unanimously voted to extend the social distancing guidelines, etc., under a new ordinance that expires Sept. 1.
Mayor Corbin Herman said the extension was at his request, noting the current resolutions and ordinances expire July 1, and if they are not extended, the council would need another three weeks to get an ordinance passed again. Herman stressed the ordinance does not have to be enforced through Sept. 1; rather, it is merely there if needed.
“There’s no indication there is a reason not to” extend the ordinance, said alderwoman Jeannie Fischer.
For now the status quo remains in Custer, with businesses that have submitted plans operating as they have been and capacity limits still in place.
Alderwoman Carrie Moore said she polled downtown business owners about the extension and said many were less than thrilled, while others were more understanding. Moore said she thinks the ordinance is still needed, but questioned the Sept. 1 sunset date.
“It’s so long,” she said. “That’s the reaction I got.”
Fischer said there is no data that shows it’s in the best interest of public safety to end the ordinance and said it feels like a long time because of the uncertainty.
“I think we need to stay the course on this one,” she said. Fischer said she appreciates the businesses “hanging in there,” as she knows it’s not easy.
On the same evening, Rapid City voted to  lift all mandatory business restrictions, leaving it to business owners to make those decisions after the emergency resolution was in place for just over a month and a half. Thirty miles away, the Sturgis City Council voted to move ahead with the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
It was said at Custer’s Monday meeting that Monument Health said if the Rally moves forward, the Black Hills’ COVID-19 peak will be in mid-August. Earlier, the peak date was estimated at mid-June.
Alderwoman Peg Ryan said businesses in Custer are “doing the right thing anyway” in following social distancing guidelines, and that most businesses are writing this tourism season off.
The ordinance has a clause that states it must be discussed at every future council meeting to decide if restrictions are still necessary. The next city council meeting is July 6.
COVID-19 was the focus of an earlier part of the meeting, as well, when representatives of the local emergency operations center (EOC) that came together to prepare for the virus presented a COVID-19 pre-plan and matrix and its recommendations to use as a guideline on dealing with an outbreak in the county. 
The EOC was activated in early March and initially focused on acquiring personal protective equipment for first responders. When the question was raised as to what would happen when Custer County finally got a case (there are now two) what would be done, work on the matrix began.
The matrix looks at target groups such as areas of higher risk (nursing homes, assisted living, first responders) as well as larger employers in the county.
Each group has a case threshold number, a number of positive tests that could be hit before actions are taken to prevent further spread. For some key entities, such as the ambulance service, the number is one, as a spread among first responders could be devastating to the community.
Recommendations on how to act when the threshold number is met vary from daily monitoring and protective gear use all the way up to shelter in place, forced shut-down of non-essential businesses and public facility closures.
EOC members stressed the matrix is only a recommendation and the EOC has no authority to enforce it. EOC member Joe Harbach said he hopes it will bring the city, county and other entities together to make decisions and implementations if a spike in cases should occur.
The matrix also has a breakdown of the towns in the community, as well as some unincorporated areas such as Argyle and Dewey.
Harbach said it is his belief Custer County has yet to experience its first wave of COVID-19 cases and said there is still potential for a second wave. Harbach said it’s imperative entities look two weeks ahead, if not more, as to how it will react should cases begin to pile up.
The “special events” portion of the matrix was left blank intentionally, Harbach said. Those should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and if the county sees a spike in cases, what to do about upcoming special events, such as Gold Discovery Days, can be determined at that point.
Finally on the COVID front, the city council approved the submitted plan to open the pool at the Chief Motel and learned the city is working with Sander Sanitation to schedule a cleanup day. July 11 is  the requested date, although it has not been finalized.

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