SDSU president speaks on City Council’s decision to extend COVID-19 restrictions

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Extending COVID-19 restrictions in Brookings wasn’t an easy decision, but the president of South Dakota State University says it’ll help create a smoother return to campus semester. SDSU is getting ready to brings students back after the pandemic moved students to online learning in the spring. Last week, KELOLAND News told you how the Brookings City Council decided to keep certain restrictions on businesses. The guidelines limit bars, restaurants, gyms, and salons to operate at 50-percent capacity, or a maximum of ten customers. Whichever is greater. SDSU president Barry Dunn praises that decision.

South Dakota State University was established in 1881, and even after nearly 140 years, the start of this semester during the COVID-19 pandemic is something different.

“Brookings is absolutely critical for SDSU and vice versa,” Dunn said.

Dunn says the city council’s decision is crucial to keeping students safe on campus. The council is following CDC guidelines, which do not recommend lifting restricitons until there are 14 consecutive days of COVID-19 case decline.

“And Brookings has not seen that,” Dunn said.

Last month, Brookings County had 24 cases. According to the state department of health, it’s now at 95 cases. That is up 11 from 86 cases five days ago, when our initial story aired. 18 of those cases are active. Throughout the pandemic, only four people with COVID-19 have been hospitalized in Brookings County. A business owner pushed back on the council’s decision, worried about how it’ll affect the local economy.

“We can re-open this campus, we can have a successful year, but we have to do it following CDC guidelines,” Dunn said.

“We’re bringing such a large number of students back, it’s important that our baseline cases are low, so we don’t have a large spike in transmission,” Laura Dirks, SDSU public health specialist, said.

SDSU is working on plans to prevent any outbreaks. Those plans include changes to housing, food services, classes, and having isolation rooms at the ready. Still, Dunn does expect to see some cases pop up.

“I think it would take a very major outbreak to shut us down. We’re not naive that everything will be perfect here,” Dunn said.

Dirks says students can help by minimizing who they come in contact with in the two weeks before classes start.

“We really want that isolation, so when they do come to campus, they minimize the risk of infection,” Dirks said.

This year isn’t like the rest, but Dunn hopes it stands out for the right reasons.

“We can do this and we are looking forward to graduating another senior class next spring,” Dunn said.

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