Less restrictive COVID-19 ordinance passes first reading

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand esand@aberdeennews.com) – The Aberdeen City Council has passed first reading of an ordinance that would relax business restrictions related to COVID-19.

The vote was 5-3.

If given final approval, no restrictions would remain in place for hairstylists, who must now wear masks.

For bars, restaurants, breweries, cafes, casinos, coffee shops, recreational or athletic facilities, health clubs, entertainment venues or similar places, it would remove the restriction on parties of more than 10 people in one party. However, the businesses would be encouraged to adopt and promote practices that do not involve public gatherings in enclosed spaces — things like takeout, delivery, drive-thru, curbside service and off-site services.

It would also require businesses to discontinue practices that are incompatible with CDC hygiene practices.

Enclosed retail businesses would be encouraged to ensure social distancing in compliance with federal and state guidelines — 6 feet between those who are not family members, members of the same household or in the same social outing.

Since ordinances require two public hearings, a special meeting is planned Thursday at 5 p.m. in the council chambers for possible final adoption. The first hearing was at the Brown County Courthouse following a canvass of vote results from Tuesday’s primary. No changes were made to the election results.

As an emergency ordinance, the new COVID-19 measure would be in effect for 60 days and would go into effect at 12:01 a.m. the day after approval.

Mayor Travis Schaunaman and councilmen Josh Rife and Alan Johnson voted against the proposal. The remaining council members voted in favor, with the exception of Dave Lunzman, who did not attend the meeting.

Todd Forkel, CEO at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital, and Ashley Erickson, CEO for Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center, both spoke to the council and said hospitals are confident they can meet the needs of the community.

Johnson said the city should trust that businesses will follow CDC guidelines.

Councilman Clint Rux favored the idea of simply requiring businesses to follow CDC guidelines, but he said he’s also seen the effects of COVID-19 and knows a family that spent two weeks in quarantine because of a positive test.

Schaunaman listed five or so businesses that aren’t likely to reopen and pointed to the city’s emergency ordinance as a factor.

“The purpose of this ordinance was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed,” he said.

That purpose has been achieved, Schaunaman said, later adding that it’s time to lift the restrictions.

Others on the council disagreed.

“Some of these restaurants were experiencing severe decreases in numbers (before the pandemic),” Councilman David Bunsness said. “You can’t pin this on us until you give us the proof.”

Forkel said it’s dangerous to speculate about what would have happened had no action had been taken. There might have been more deaths and infections, he said.

“It’s a dangerous game to predict with a crystal ball what would happen,” he said. “We acted on information we had. Even the governor in her television commercials will say we flattened the curve. There’s been pain on every side of the ledger. … Doing what’s right should never be shamed.”

Councilman Dennis “Mike” Olson and others disagreed that the sole reason for the city’s emergency ordinance was to help hospitals. Olson said he supported it out of concern for the entire community.

“I think we did a very responsible thing. We need to continue that responsibility and lessen things, if necessary. It’s very important to be responsible in our community and do what we can to keep this trend falling. Let’s not let our guard down,” he said.

Rife spoke against the new emergency ordinance. He looks at it from the perspective of a business hosting an event.

“If we have additional restrictions, it’s going to put our people at a district disadvantage when we have restrictions others don’t have,” he said.

But, Rife said, he also sees the need for continued social isolation for those who are high risk or immunocompromised.

Prior to the vote, Erickson cautioned against having too much specificity in the ordinance as CDC guidelines continue to evolve and change. As that happens, she said, a city ordinance could end up more restrictive than CDC guidelines.

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