During their May 4 meeting, Madison's mayor and city commissioners couldn't agree on an agenda item involving the approval of shelter-in-place guidelines that resulted in the agenda item's removal with a 3-2 vote.

At the start of the meeting, the commissioners were asked to approved the agenda. Commissioner Jeremiah Corbin asked to remove the last item, the shelter-in-place guidelines, because they were not included among the preliminary information given out.

Commissioners Corbin, Kelly Johnson and Mike Waldner voted to approve the agenda without the shelter-in-place guidelines item. Mayor Marshall Dennert and Commissioner Bob Thill voted no.

During public comments at the end of the meeting, it appeared that shelter-in-place guidelines were related to a work-from-home effort that Madison utility personnel followed in April as part of workplace social-distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Lee of Madison spoke about a "stay-at-home" policy for municipal electricians when Madison manufacturers such as Global Polymer and Manitou had workers coming into their plants. Jim Casanova of Madison also spoke about a lack of coronavirus cases, at that point, in Madison.

Officials with the S.D. Department of Health reported this week that Lake County (Madison is the county seat) has accumulated four positive cases for COVID-19 with four patient recoveries and 155 negative tests.

In comparison, neighboring Minnehaha County has detected 2,332 positive cases with 1,656 recoveries and 26 deaths. Minnehaha County has also accumulated 7,430 negative COVID-19 test results.

Speaking on Wednesday about the utility personnel and their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, Brad Lawrence, city utility director, said the utility staff had worked from their homes from April 3 to May 3. The workers were available on "standby status" and were expected to start taking work orders at 7 a.m. each work day. Appropriate staff members had municipal work vehicles at their homes to drive out to calls.

"We were able to dispatch them from home, basically using the smart (computer) devices and the system that we plan to continue using from now on," Lawrence said.

City personnel are switching to a software system that will initiate work orders on smart devices, including tablet computers, without the need for filling out and filing paper forms.

According to Lawrence, during the month that city electricians were on standby status, they responded to 127 calls to perform Electric Department-related tasks. When the electricians were not performing work, they were training; Lawrence said the electricians completed 53 hours of training.

Lawrence said the staff with Madison's water and sanitary-sewer departments also performed maintenance work in early spring, including water-valve and street-hydrant maintenance. He added that city workers completed 395 "locators" for underground utility lines, finding the underground lines before construction workers started to dig up the ground.

"We were still on the job and got all of our work done," Lawrence said.

According to Lawrence, the city's utility departments had conducted a risk assessment at the start of March where the workers had practiced social-distancing, conducted intensive cleaning in the workplace, emphasized hand-washing and taken other precautions. The city closed its offices, including City Hall and the municipal utility building, in late March. City commissioners have conducted their weekly meetings with distance connections through internet and phone hook-ups.

Lawrence said that certain risks still existed with all of the utility workers moving in and out of the utility building. He determined that if one city employee should test positive for COVID-19, he would then have to consider that at least one other worker would test for the disease.

According to Lawrence, the utility departments had worked at following COVID-19 guidelines distributed by OSHA. OSHA's guidelines included having employers "...explore whether they can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees."

An OSHA report, "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19," said those efforts were applicable in workplaces if "...state and local health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies." The federal safety officials also advised employers to "Discourage workers from using other workers' phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible."