“Please mask up South Dakota,” Dr. Benjamin Aaker said.

It’s the same message we heard just last week from Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken. Now the state’s medical organizations, health systems, schools and business organizations are banding together to reiterate the call for mask wearing by all in social situations. While no one is willing yet to call for a mask mandate, business and health care leaders say you need to wear a mask to keep hospitals from reaching capacity and to keep schools and businesses open.

“Masking is a simple act that each one of us can participate in and it can save lives. If you mask that life could be your mother, father, your friend or even your own,” Dr. Benjamin Aaker of the South Dakota State Medical Association said.

The “Mask Up South Dakota” coalition says to keep the state open is to follow CDC guidelines: social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask in public settings. A record 395 patients who are now hospitalized with COVID-19.

“Our COVID hospitalizations have risen dramatically. Hospitals are very busy and some have been operationalizing steps and surge plans to increase bed capacity. But there is an upper limit that we hope we don’t reach,” Dr. Aaker said.

Bob Sutton of Avera Health, says when health workers are exposed to COVID-19 or come with down symptoms, it reduces hospital capacity to care for all patients, not just those with the virus.

“You need to make sure you have housekeepers, you need to have dietary folks to have food for those inpatients, so it’s across our health care organization and every health care organization, not just ours, that we protect our workforce so we’re here to take care of our fellow South Dakotans.”

Avera Health President and CEO Bob Sutton said.

“Mask Up South Dakota” also has the support of school administrators across the state, because when educators, bus drivers, cooks and sanitation workers get sick, it’s harder to keep the school doors open.

“The challenge with school is we need teachers in front of the students and that’s really the biggest lynchpin that’s going to force schools to go to their next level of hybrid or online learning or whatever–is when we run out of substitute teachers or teachers in front of those kids,” Rob Munson, Executive Director of School Administrators of South Dakota said.

However, these health care and community leaders say they appreciate Governor Kristi Noem’s call for personal responsibility in slowing the spread of COVID-19, rather than mandating masks.

Kennecke: I bet that health care systems wish that politics weren’t part of this discussion.
Bob Sutton: I am going to avoid that at all costs. But we certainly do. It’s a very highly polarized and charged environment right now. We just think we need to stay in our lane and our lane is to ask our fellow citizens to wear masks, to social distance and use good hand hygiene.

The “Mask Up South Dakota” campaign is also using the hashtag #MASKUPSODAK on social media.