SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As COVID-19 makes its way into parts of South Dakota, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken is an interesting position.
Sioux Falls is in two counties, Minnehaha and Lincoln; it’s the state’s largest city with an estimated population of 190,750; and according to Sioux Falls Development Foundation, the Sioux Falls metro area also generated over 31% of South Dakota’s taxable retail sector sales in 2018.
TenHaken has been at the forefront in banning public gatherings of 250 or more in public places, asking businesses like bars and restaurants to keep patron numbers to 10 or less to encourage residents to practice social distancing and encouraging businesses to allow employees to work from home.
“Our primary objective at the city is slowing the spread of COVID-19 to protect the public health of our community,” TenHaken said in a email response to questions about how he uses data and science to make recommendations on COVID-19 response. “Data on confirmed cases, negative cases, pending tests and hospital capacity are key to making decisions that allow us to serve the people of Sioux Falls during this pandemic.”
Sioux Falls Public Health Director Jill Franken said during Thursday’s city council meeting that the city and its partners have had pandemic plans in place that are being used for COVID-19 response and planning.
Sioux Falls may have some distinct advantages as it considers and implements COVID-19 response plans.
“As one of the last states in the nation to confirm the presence of this disease in our state, we have had the ability to monitor outbreak and surge responses in other states,” TenHaken said. “That has allowed us to see what others are doing and guided us in our response efforts to flattening the curve in the Sioux Falls area.”
The city is also home to two of the largest health care entities in the Upper Midwest in Avera Health and Sanford Health.
“The city’s emergency operations team is communicating regularly with the local hospitals. Hospitals are tracking information on bed availability, surge capacity, utilization (numbers of visits) and other information being monitored by their individual agency’s EOCs,” TenHaken said.
Monitoring also includes tracking availability of personal protective equipment or PPE, Franken said at the council meeting.
A doctor from Sanford and a doctor from Avera said during Thursday’s council meeting that they and other officials from their organization meet regularly with city officials about COVID-19.
Both medical groups have added on-site COVID-19 testing, which also helps with decision-making.
“Avera and Sanford’s testing capabilities help us get faster testing results to be nimble in our resource to flatten the curve and slow the spread,” TenHaken said.
The city is also working with the South Dakota Department of Health as well as monitoring information from the Centers for Disease Control, TenHaken said.
The presence of two major medical groups means the city draw visitors with medical appointments. The city is also a retail and work hub so it draw shoppers and workers from outside the city.
The city’s authority ends within its 80-mile borders but TenHaken said he’s communicating with other cities.
“I’m talking regularly with other mayors and county leaders on steps they are taking to combat COVID-19, particularly in the Sioux Falls MSA area,” TenHaken said. “The city’s authority only extends to our 80 square miles, so it’s important for the region’s public health that the surrounding communities and counties work in conjunction to slow the spread.”
While he will often refer to science and data driven decisions during news conferences and at public meetings, TenHaken said he’s been learning in the process.
“Like me, the general public is probably getting a Epidemiology 101 lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic,” TenHaken said.
The Sioux Falls City Council and Sioux Fall Department of Health both passed a regulation that bans gatherings of 10 or more in businesses such as bars, coffee shops and restaurants for a two-period. It was the most recent COVID-19 response initiative pushed by TenHaken.
City attorney Stacy Kooistra said during Thursday’s council meeting that the city’s latest ordinance on COVID-19 is legally allowed but it’s also a balance between health and safety issues and the preservation of rights such as the First Amendment, which gives people the right to assemble. Business impact can also play a role, Kooistra said.
While science and data will be analyzed and reviewed to make plans, some science still remains simple.
“While health care management and the medical sciences are complex, the basic concepts of good handcwashing, social distancing, and staying home if your sick are all critical steps all of us can follow to help decrease the transmission of this virus in our community and to help flatten the curve to support our healthcare providers,” TenHaken said.