City unanimously approves detailed amendment easing COVID restrictions on businesses

ABERDEEN, S.D. () -Businesses in Aberdeen will begin to be able to reopen and offer more services under an amendment approved Wednesday night by the city council.

The unanimous vote came after about two hours of nuanced discussion that included three proposals and many amendments.

In the end, a detailed amendment from Councilman Rob Ronayne was approved, though it was altered a few times before it was finalized. Some of the stipulations for businesses as they begin to ramp up include that they must:

  • Maintain a minimum six-foot space between tables, chairs and barstools if occupants are not members of the same household or dining party. And families and dining parties are limited to 10 people.
  • Limit capacity in indoor recreational facilities and fitness businesses to a number of people that can safely and reliably ensure social distancing.
  • Require hand-washing at regular intervals of at least once per hour for all restaurant, bar, and food service employees.
  • Clean and disinfect video lottery machines between each customer and at the start of business.
  • Reduce seating to allow for social distancing by removing chairs or marking certain seats as “not available due to social distancing.”
  • Post for customers the regular cleaning and disinfecting schedule.
  • Maintain a six-foot space between customers waiting for service or entry.
  • Implement daily health screening protocol per South Dakota Department of Health guidelines for all employees.

When social distancing guidelines cannot be met or a barrier to the public is not provided, employees must wear a mask that covers the face and nose.

Beyond that, employees of beauty and hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, spas, massage studios and barber shops must wear masks that cover their nose and mouth during customer contact times. Seats for customers must be at least six apart. However, those businesses can open with the amendment. They had to remain closed under the city’s most recent emergency ordinance.

In health, fitness, athletic and weight training facilities, equipment and mats must be cleaned and disinfected between each use under the new amendment.

It took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. It contains more caveats than a proposal submitted by a task force the council created Monday night to gather more feedback about loosening businesses restrictions.

Before the 9-0 vote, there was a vote to substitute the task force amendment for the Ronayne amendment. It fell 6-3 with Mayor Travis Schaunaman and council members Josh Rife and Alan Johnson voting no.

In the end, Aberdeen business owners David Novstrup of Thunder Road and Allevity Entertainment and Duane Sutton of The Millstone Family Restaurant said they could accept the version passed by the council even if they preferred the cleaner task force measure.

Health care professionals told the council it’s fine to start opening up the city as long as the plan remains flexible should virus numbers spike in the future.

Wachs’ perspective

Dr. David Wachs, a physician with Avera in Aberdeen, was a member of the task force and spoke during the meeting.

He had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Brown County. He said it took him about a month to fully recover — longer than the flu. But, he noted, there are far more cases of the flu.

“It’s way too much TV for 10 days,” he said of his time in insolation as he recovered from COVID-19.

While there have not been any deaths directly attributed to the virus in this part of the state, he offered perspective. He said he has seen six elderly women in recent weeks who have died. Senior citizens are in the high-risk category, and most nursing homes and assisted-living centers have banned visitors. That kind of isolation can be difficult.

The women simply “gave up their spirit and died,” Wachs said.

And those deaths, to him, are related to COVID-19.