TenHaken to require city employees to wear face coverings; Urges region to be more diligent in response to COVID-19

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Employees of the city of Sioux Falls will be required to wear face coverings when physical and social distancing is not possible as part of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Paul TenHaken announced in a Monday afternoon news conference.

TenHaken said he considers himself the head of one of the city’s largest employers. By requiring Sioux Falls city employees to wear masks, he’s doing what he can protect employees and the public.

The city has about 1,300 employees and the requirement would cover interaction with the public, common areas in buildings and similar, he said.

The Mayor urged other employers to follow his lead.

Not only is COVID-19 a public health issue, it’s a workforce issue. Face coverings and other hygiene actions can protect employees and the public, TenHaken said.

TenHaken and three other health care officials at the news conference also strongly encouraged the public to wear face coverings when appropriate, maintain physical social distance, practice good hand washing and evaluate COVID-19 risks for themselves and family members.

It’s similar to the plea made at multiple news conferences held during the pandemic since April. Except this time, TenHaken made a plea for residents in the region to follow the CDC COVID-19 guidelines as COVID-19 numbers reach new highs including in case numbers and hospitalizations.

“That’s my request for today not just for the residents of Sioux Falls to take this to heart but really the entire southeast part of the state,” TenHaken said.

During an Aug. 17 news conference, TenHaken said that if hospitalization rates and percent positive rates grew at similar levels with 40 hospitalizations each at Avera and Sanford, it would be a reason the city may consider a mask mandate.

TenHaken said on Monday that while a mask mandate is one of multiple tools the city could still use in the future, as of today, a mask mandate in Sioux Falls is not the best option.

Dr. Mike Wilde of Sanford said about 10% to 15% of the COVID-19 patients in Sioux Falls are Sioux Falls residents. David Flicek, the chief administrator of Avera McKennan said about 20% of Avera McKennan’s COVID-19 patients are from Sioux Falls.

“A mask mandate for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the 80 square miles here would have a pretty minor impact right now on the surge they are experiencing,” TenHaken said.

“We need everybody, whether you’re in Brandon, whether you’re in Corson or whether you’re in Hartford, to be taking the virus as seriously as we are in Sioux Falls,” TenHaken said.

Although as of Oct. 5, hospitalizations have increased to 110 for Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties, Wilde and Flicek said their organizations have the capacity to handle those patients.

Both health care systems are planning to increase intensive care unit capacity for COVID-19 and non COVID-19 patients.

Staffing is a challenge, Flicek said, but staffing numbers and bed capacity are both manageable.

The COVID-19 numbers from positive cases to hospitalizations have been increasing over the past several weeks, said Jill Franken, the director of the Sioux Falls Health Department.

Oct. 5 COVID-19 numbers for the Sioux Falls area of Lincoln and Minnehaha Counties in this data. Graph from the city of Sioux Falls COVID-19 dashboard.

The Sioux Falls area had 30 new COVID-19 cases as of Oct.5 and 116 on Oct. 4, according to the city of Sioux Falls COVID-19 dashboard. The Sioux Falls area had 1,096 active cases as of Oct. 5.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got to reverse that trend,” Franken said.

Although some in the public may have fatigue when it comes to COVID-19 response and practicing social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings, personal responsibility is still critical when it comes to tackling COVID-19, TenHaken said.

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