An impossible decision made

Monday night, the Huron city commissioners made a very difficult decision.

I want to open this very clearly. I do not envy their decision. I respect each man with a vote on that commission, and I know that I can have a logical discussion with each of them.

That’s what made Monday’s incredibly illogical decision to repeal the March 22 resolution/ordinance limiting businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic so blindsiding to me, especially with the news of COVID exposure in Mitchell last weekend... after they’d opened up essentially in the same way being proposed.

There wasn’t a tapered re-opening that allowed non-dining open for two weeks, then dining for two weeks, then on-sale liquor after that, all subject to change if an outbreak were to occur within the county (or something to that tone as many have been expecting).

This was pure, rip-off-the-Band-Aid ordinance gone.

All this to be finalized on Saturday morning, with a promised list of guidelines. It will go into effect 10 days after it’s published - this is not an immediate thing.

Huron in particular, and in Beadle County as a whole, has been held up over and over again by Governor Kristi Noem for the work done by its residents.

The difficult joint decision made by the county and city commissions on March 22 was strong, yet tactful. We lost two beloved residents of our community to the virus, and whether the swift action of the joint commissions or those deaths made public by their families is what sent the city and the county to the place where there has not been a positive test since April 1 would be impossible to gauge, but it’s been a blessing to see.

A blessing, because we have a turkey processing plant that is doing the right things here in town. A blessing, because we have a community significantly supporting local businesses so much that our local tax revenue is holding its own - for March of 2019 to 2020 -  during a time when we cannot enter restaurants and many other businesses. A blessing, because many of our local counties saw hot spots jump up, like the Lane Cafe in Jerauld County, while Beadle was able to focus on social distancing.

Now, business owners are put in an incredibly precarious position. If I own a restaurant and have been doing good business on take out, as many in Huron have during this time, the city repealing its ordinance and opening up dining areas means I can open my restaurant again.

While that is certainly appealing to me, especially if I happen to have an on-site liquor license, I worry that my employees could take home the virus from a dining room full of customers.

Let’s say my top waitress has her 71 year-old mother living with her due to a chronic heart condition. If she comes in to work, she could be exposed to the virus by any one of dozens of customers she serves that day and take it home that night, potentially endangering her mother’s life. She’s able to barely survive on unemployment now with the COVID-19 boost from the federal government, but if I open my restaurant, she is forced to come to work or she will lose her unemployment.

Well, I, as the owner, don’t want to see her forced into potentially exposing her vulnerable mother, so I’ll stay closed. Heck, I’m making good money on take out, right? Except that every other restaurant in town is now opening their dining room, and no one wants my take out anymore, meaning I’m quite literally going to have to decide between the potential lives of my employees and their families or the survival of my business.

What really puts the icing on the cake is that earlier in the meeting Monday night, the city commission ironically read into its record a proclamation recognizing National Nurses Week (May 4-8) and National Hospitals Week (May 10-16). It’s good to recognize them both. We could be utilizing them heavily soon enough if we follow our neighbors to the south and their no-holds-barred re-opening.