America’s new civil war

Protesters with opposing views gathered before the Rapid City Area School board meeting on September 7. (Image is a screenshot of a Rapid City Journal YouTube video)

RAPID CITY—As Covid-19 cases surge across the Black Hills, the war over masks and vaccines rages on. What began as a global pandemic/public health issue has morphed into a political battle that has no end in sight.

Across the country, lines have been drawn and people have taken sides. In a startling pattern, politics have become intertwined into peoples’ stance on masks and vaccines. Republican leaders seem to be fighting for their states’ “freedoms” by refusing to implement mandates of any kind. As in-person school starts up again this fall, schools and teachers are fighting their local legislators to implement mandates. Parents and citizens are fighting against these mandates. In fact, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took his fight a step further and threatened to withhold salaries for school officials if their schools required masks.

The “masker vs. anti-vaxxer” fight played out again in the Rapid City Area School Board meeting on the evening of September 7. The board voted down a mask mandate 5-2 in a heated and sometimes raucous meeting. The board also voted 6-0 to adjust their Covid-19 plan, including discontinuing email notifications which informed parents of new cases per school building, stating that social distancing is ‘encouraged but not required or prohibited’, and requiring parental consent for students’ Covid tests. In what seemed procedurally backwards to the community members who attended the meeting, a portion of the public comment period was held after the board voted.

Emotions ran high during the public comment period, which was peppered with outbursts and applause from the attendees. While several public commenters were against the mask mandate and thanked the board for their vote, the majority of speakers implored the board to follow the science and do more to protect the students and teachers—to no avail, however, since the votes had already been cast.

Dr. Sam Mortimer, a local pediatrician, made a public comment, “1,000 schools have been closed in 31 states in the last couple weeks. Covid is rampant here, our medical facilities are overwhelmed, and I think it’s a no-brainer to do the safety protocols that would make a difference for the safety of our kids and our staff. So, that is to vaccinate everybody who is eligible, masks indoors for all kids and teachers whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, increase ventilation, and social-distancing. Please review the science and act on it. Thank you.”

Sue Vidal, a teacher in the RCAS district and the President for the Rapid City Education Association made a public comment and talked about mask-shaming, saying that she chooses to wear a mask to provide her students a space where they can feel safe wearing a mask because, “they’re not feeling safe, and when students don’t feel safe, we all lose. One of my primary responsibilities is to provide a learning environment that allows students to participate freely and safely. It is incredibly disappointing to look at a board placed in a spot of leadership, and… I think you failed. And that is very hard for me to say.”

Si Issler, a Covid nurse at Monument Health said this in her public comment to the board, “We need to take care of our community… I’m a Covid nurse. I take care of Covid patients, I did it all last year. I take care of cardiac patients, and I take care of Covid patients. We are overwhelmed at work. We are so overwhelmed. The National Guard is being brought in because we don’t have staff. We are at emergency staffing procedures. And when we aren’t taking care of Covid patients we are trying to take care of other patients, but we don’t have enough room and we don’t have enough staff… You guys have to take care of your community. Please open your hearts and listen to information from my co-workers that are on the frontlines.”

Not only did several doctors and nurses make public comments at the meeting, a group of 58 area medical professionals sent a letter to the school board prior to the meeting imploring them to increase their Covid-19 mitigations. According to the RCAS website, there are currently 560 students and 47 teachers who are in quarantine/isolation in the school district.

The same “masker vs. anti-vaxxer” fight is playing out in city council and school board meetings across the United States. The magnitude of misinformation and politicization surrounding Covid-19 has created a distinct divide in America.

Even as cases continue to rise, people are fighting against wearing masks and getting vaccinated. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Covid Data Tracker, the total cases in the United States is more than 40 million with 647,461 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently lists four designated variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. The WHO also lists five designated variants of interest: Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, and Mu. The CDC also shows that community transmission is high across the entire United States.

In a September 7 interview with South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Monument Health, Dr. Shankar Kurra, said that a lot of the patients they are seeing are “younger and sicker” than in previous months. Dr. Kurra also said that roughly 81% of the patients who are hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, stating that on September 1 there were 79 Covid-19 patients, and 64 were unvaccinated. Dr. Kurra also stated that of the 24 ICU patients who require ventilators, 23 are unvaccinated, saying, “If you are unvaccinated, you are very likely to require critical intensive care and… your long-term prognosis is poor.”

In an August 27 press release, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem stated her views on mask mandates for businesses, “To be clear, I don’t think businesses should require a Covid vaccine as a condition of employment. I also believe that government is too big, and mandates are not a conservative tool in forcing the behavior of its citizens. Since when did the Republican Party become the party of big government and social engineering using the power of government to force behavior? Once we, as a people, open the door to increased government power to put mandates on businesses, expect a Pandora’s Box of liberal mandates to hit in the future that touch on faith, the right to keep and bear arms, and the expanding list of genders the left has invented.”

As of September 7, the South Dakota Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 update showed 349 new confirmed cases in the state, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 117,826. 104 new probable cases were reported, which brings the total of probable cases to 16,482. The active case number rose to 6,182, with 213 people currently hospitalized in South Dakota and a total of 6,924 ever hospitalized. The total number of South Dakotans who have recovered from Covid-19 is 126,052. The total deaths among cases recorded are 2,074.


(Contact Kim Lathe at


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