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Sioux Falls Mask Mandate Possible If COVID-19 Hospitalization Rates Rise

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Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken says a city-wide mask mandate is not likely in the immediate future, but he says it could happen if hospitalization rates from COVID-19 increase.

Wearing a mask is one of the recommendations local healthcare leaders give to slow the spread of the virus.

Mayor Paul TenHaken says the most important COVID-19 data point to watch is hospitalization rates.

“One number that we’re watching quite honestly is that 40 hospitalization threshold, and that’s per system," he says.

If each hospital in the Sioux Falls area is housing 40 COVID-19 patients, TenHaken says the city would consider a mask mandate.

“That’s a card that we have in our deck of responses.”

But he says the data doesn’t support that move just yet. There are currently 33 COVID-19 hospitalizations spread across the city.

“And even though our positivity rate has increased the last couple weeks, our hospitalization rate has been very steady," says TenHaken. "And that’s a very good thing. A good sign.”

There are nearly 500 active cases in the Sioux Falls area. The percent-positive rate of COVID-19 test results has risen in the area since late June and remains around 12%.

Chief Medical Officer of Avera McKennan Hospital Michael Elliott says the risk from COVID-19 is real. He says the flu kills between 12,000 and 60,000 people nationwide each year. By comparison, more-than 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 so far. The death toll is much lower in South Dakota, but he says this virus is not to be taken lightly.

“Wear your masks. Social distancing. Good hand hygiene. Wash the surfaces, the doorknobs around your buildings, your homes. And by all means if you have symptoms—even mild symptoms—please, for the sake of yourself and those around you, stay home.”

Leaders from Avera and Sanford also recommend receiving the flu shot as soon as possible. Dr. Elliott says if there is a rise of both COVID-19 and influenza in the winter, area hospitals will likely be overwhelmed.