City council to discuss mask requirement options next week

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand – The Aberdeen City Council will discuss mask mandate options next week.

This announcement came from City Manager Joe Gaa at the end of Monday’s city council meeting. It followed discussion earlier in the meeting with Brown County Emergency Management Director Scott Meints, who emphasized the need for everyone to do their part to decrease COVID-19 cases.

Meints shared the same thoughts with the Brown County Commission Tuesday.

In Monday’s state Department of Health report, Brown County hit a record high of 401 active cases, but the total dipped a bit Tuesday. Brown County hit 206 active cases on Sept. 28 and, after a slight decline, jumped to 306 by Oct. 14, then continued to increase.

Several area counties are also seeing higher numbers of active cases. Day County, which had 24 active cases on Oct. 14, had 41 on Monday and 36 Tuesday. Faulk County, which had 44 active cases on Oct. 14, hit a high of 84 active cases on Sunday and had 78 active cases in Tuesday’s report. Walworth County, which had 66 active cases on Oct. 14, hit its highest level on Oct. 18 with 95. Tuesday, it had 76 active cases.

Meints said he can’t point to one thing that’s caused the increase in active cases. Yes, he said, more people are active with schools in session and athletic events, but he doesn’t advise eliminating those activities. Instead, he said, the community needs to adjust to the fact that more events are happening and realize there is significant community spread.

“There’s still some out there who think COVID is a joke and will go away after the election,” he said. “This is a community thing. This is an everybody issue. We’re going to have to work together to get those numbers to go down.”

Meints said wearing masks, social distancing, good hygiene and staying home all help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“To change, we need to be that change, not just talk about it,” he said.

He’s not concerned about the county’s supply of personal protective equipment, and first responders continue to respond to calls for service.

But, he said, hospitals are stressed.

“Beds are filling up and workers are tired,” he said.

Hospital numbers are reported to the South Dakota Department of Health. But, Meints said, they don’t tell the whole story because the use of hospital beds changes quickly throughout the day. For example he said, one hospital called last week concerned because all the intensive care unit beds were going to be full. That hospital was able to make some adjustments and avoid that, but it was close to happening.

And, Meints said, as it is now flu season, those patients will also be going to the hospital.

Exhaustion and stress at hospitals was one theme in a letter from Dr. Blake Heinz, who works at Avera St. Luke’s. Councilwoman Tiffany Langer read the letter to the council during its open forum.

Heinz said admissions to the hospital are increasing with 22 COVID-19-related patients in September and 55 so far in October.

As cases increase, he said, so will hospital admissions. And although the mortality rate is low, there are chronic diseases that are developing among patients. Heinz said he’s seen patients who have recovered from COVID-19 who now are grappling with heart failure, blood clots or the sudden onset of diabetes.

He encouraged action like increased public awareness to push case numbers down.

Councilman Clint Rux pointed out that Aberdeen hospitals get patients from area counties, too. Meints agreed the admissions are likely more than just Brown County residents.

Recent council discussion about a mask mandate has garnered some feedback from residents who like the idea, Gaa said. He’d like to present some options to the council next week and welcomes additional public comments. Residents can call 605-626-7025 or email

“This is going to be really volatile and difficult for staff to make a recommendation,” he said.