Aberdeen reopens as COVID-19 cases climb

Coronavirus

ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — Monday morning, health officials confirmed nearly 100 new COVID-19 cases in South Dakota.

Seven of those are in Brown County, bringing the county’s total to 127 people infected. The majority of those are connected to the DemKota Ranch Beef plant. Yet, the county seat and South Dakota’s third largest city, Aberdeen, is back open for business with some new precautions in place.

A steady stream of traffic could be found on Aberdeen’s main drags over the weekend. For business owner, Lowell Punt, who owns two restaurant/bars in town, it was his first time back in business since voluntarily closing on March 22.

“This was more like steady, all day long. It was never like you got hit or anything like that. The Zoo was slower, but I think when the business is you have a dance floor, and you don’t have those things going, you kind of totally change the scope of your business right there,” Lowell Punt said.

Video Courtesy Lowell Punt: Inside Lagers Inn in Aberdeen from the weekend.

Punt is following the rules set out in the new city ordinance, which allows him to reopen. The new requirements include things like allowing fewer people in, more space between tables and having staff wear masks.

“Throw-away menus—just printed menus; don’t use them twice. We have QR codes on the table, where if you have a smart phone, you can just pull up the menu. We use, instead of ketchup bottles, condiments–we use all disposable things-packets,” Punt said.

Breaking the new rules is a Class Two misdemeanor, which could result in a $500 fine and jail time.

“There’s already been some people that have called the police and police have shown up and taken a look to make sure things were running as they should. I feel like the enforcement is there,” Mayor Travis Schaunaman said.

Schaunaman says he’s confident in Aberdeen’s reopening, even with rising COVID-19 cases.

“It’s a higher ratio of DemKota to total cases here than Smithfield was to Sioux Falls. It’s the majority of our cases,” Schaunaman said.

DemKota never shut down, and Schaunaman says they’re monitoring employees and reducing capacity by changing shifts.

Angela Kennecke: You’re satisfied they’re doing what they need to do to control this in your community?
Schaunaman: They’re taking a lot of steps and I think they’re doing the best job they can considering the human component of it all.

The DemKota Ranch Beef Plant in Aberdeen has 76 related cases of COVID-19 on May 11

According to the South Dakota Department of Health, DemKota is: checking employees for symptoms twice a day; placing barriers between workers; and conducting extensive testing of employees and their families.

The State is providing masks and face shields for workers.

But the real reason why Schaunaman says it is safe to reopen is that only four people have been hospitalized with the virus in Aberdeen.

“And so our rate of hospitalization is less than three percent. It was a fraction of what we feared it would be. We took drastic measures to really ensure that the hospitals would have the room and it’s not going to be a problem. It simply can’t be a problem at this stage in the game,” Schaunaman said.

However, not everyone on the Aberdeen City Council is comfortable with businesses reopening as COVID cases go up.

The council is meeting Monday evening and KELOLAND News is monitoring the discussion. But it would take well over a week to reverse the ordinance at this point.

Take a closer look at the COVID-19 numbers in Brown County in this KELOLAND.com Original.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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