City to require employees to wear masks; hospitals start planning for surge

Oct. 5, 2020

Employees for the city of Sioux Falls are now required to wear a face covering at work in a move Mayor Paul TenHaken said he hopes other businesses will replicate.

The city’s approximately 1,300 employees will be required to wear a mask in all common areas, during all interactions with the public and in all areas where physical distancing is not possible.

“I consider myself the chief executive of one of Sioux Falls’ largest employers, and that’s a step I can take to ensure our critical workforce remains healthy while also protecting the residents around them,” TenHaken said at a news conference today.

While stopping short of suggesting a citywide mask mandate, he called for “enhanced diligence” from both individuals and employers.

“I, as the mayor of Sioux Falls, am relying and expecting each of you in this community to do your part. … We’re not powerless in the face of COVID-19,” TenHaken said.

The city has had situations of exposure requiring groups of workers to quarantine, he said, urging employers to take precautions to protect their workforce availability.

“Businesses have to be thinking about the ramifications of workforce,” he said.

The city’s broad goal continues to be “ensuring health care capacity is there for those who may need it,” he said.

At Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, the intensive care unit became 75 percent full last week, triggering a step in the hospital’s surge plan. President and CEO Dave Flicek said the hospital is in the process of adding a dozen more ICU beds and from 24 to 34 additional patient beds in anticipation of demand.

“We want to get ready for the influenza season,” he said.

“We thought that would be prudent planning on our part to get ready for the winter. … This is about being proactive, about managing this disease, but it does come down to there’s no vaccine yet.”

Within the Avera system, 60 percent of COVID-19 patients are from outside Sioux Falls, he said, and many are receiving care closer to home, from Aberdeen to Mitchell and Yankton.

“In March, they all used to come to Sioux Falls, so we really have an ability now to treat patients in our regional centers,” he said.

“While we have seen some increase in COVID, we have seen probably a greater increase in delayed care, so our hospitals are busy.”

About 30 percent of patients in the ICU have COVID-19, he said.

“This is all very manageable,” he said.

The bigger challenge could be workforce availability.

Flicek said he has “a couple hundred people out quarantined, and it probably happened outside of work, so I encourage all of us to continue to wear a mask, continue to wash our hands and social distance. It’s really about workforce and keeping parents and kids in schools, so let’s do the right thing and continue to wear a mask going forward.”

Sanford Health is adding 16 beds in its Heart Hospital that could be used for a variety of patients, said Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president and chief medical officer at Sanford USD Medical Center.

“We also are seeing a lot of patients, which is pretty typical for this time of year,” he said, adding that 10 percent to 15 percent of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients are from the Sioux Falls area.

“We’re really seeing this illness unfortunately get into our smaller communities as well. … It’s really ubiquitous across all of our communities,” Wilde said, underscoring the overall message of staying home when sick and using best practices.

“This is a droplet infection. It is spread by contaminated droplets getting on surfaces or directly if you’re close enough to someone you can pick up the infection.”

He urged people to “be really thoughtful about social gatherings.”

“We’re certainly seeing more of an active or serious infection from COVID in the setting of folks who are older, obese, other medical conditions as well. So if you’re in a housing situation where you’re in close contact with people at higher risk for hospitalization … I’d highly recommend being very thoughtful about you going to go to community gatherings, are you going to go to family gatherings.”

TenHaken urged people to continue to care for their mental health too.

“That continues to be a big challenge in the fight against COVID-19 right now,” he said, adding people should make an effort to take care of mental well-being, including controlling the information they’re consuming.

“We have so much to be grateful for still in this community and how resilient we’ve been to date,” he said.

He added that going forward, the city plans to hold COVID-19 updates every other Monday at 1:30 p.m.

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City to require employees to wear masks; hospitals start planning for surge

Employees for the city of Sioux Falls are now required to wear a face covering at work in a move Mayor Paul TenHaken said he hopes other businesses will replicate.

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