As COVID-19 cases surge in South Dakota lately, businesses and cities are responding to help slow the spread of the virus and mitigate the pandemic.
As many businesses had already begun to reopen or had remained open in some capacity during the past months, following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines was considered important and recommended.
The CDC suggested key employer activities focus on:
• preventing and reducing transmission among employees by actively encouraging employees to stay home, conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks, identifying how workers may be exposed to COVID-19 at work, keeping sick employees separated from healthy employees, requiring sick employees to go home, and educating employees about important preventative and protective steps;
• maintaining healthy business operations by implementing flexible sick leave and policies and practices that support employees, frequent and clear communication of policies and procedures to employees, anticipating absences and determining operations if absenteeism increases, and establishing policies and practices for social distancing; and
• maintaining a healthy work environment by increasing workplace ventilation systems, providing hand washing stations, hand sanitizer, face coverings, and tissues, encouraging hand hygiene and avoidance of touching one’s face, performing a routine cleaning, encouraging phone calls and videoconferencing (instead of in-person meetings), social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, and limiting travel.
Up to this point, the State of South Dakota has never mandated any COVID-19 precautions (such as wearing masks), but does recommend social distancing, limiting people in retail places, and wearing masks for customers and employees.
Just last week, on November 17th, the City of Sioux Falls passed an ordinance mandating masks to be worn by people inside retail businesses and city-owned facilities where proper social distancing of 6 feet cannot be achieved. The mandate took effect on November 21, 2020. While the downside is that there is no penalty (such as a fine) for a violation, the upside is that it supports businesses who choose to enforce a mask policy. Masks have been identified by the CDC and other health experts as one of the best ways to slow or stop transmission of COVID-19.
Another effort recently made in Sioux Falls is the launching of a campaign called the “Safer Sioux Falls Pledge Program.” This campaign publishes a list of those local businesses who sign a voluntarily pledge to practice COVID-19 mitigation efforts in their workplaces – in an effort to keep workplaces safe and open for business. This public commitment from businesses states that they will help slow the spread of the virus by practicing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including, but not limited to following CDC precautions (such as wearing face masks).
Any business that signs the pledge will be able to identify its business as having taken the Safer Sioux Falls Pledge, and will be listed in an online directory. Business can sign the Safer Sioux Falls pledge and consumers can see a list of those who have pledged at siouxfalls.org/pledge.
The Safer Sioux Falls Pledge includes some measures such as requiring face coverings, having hand sanitizer available for customers, practicing social distancing of 6 feet apart or more when possible, encouraging frequent employee hand washing, requiring employees to stay home when sick, and training employees on COVID-19 safety protocol.
Other cities, such as Huron, have approved resolutions that require masks within city limits. The City of Huron has also offered detailed guidelines for businesses on how to safely conduct themselves, with information on social distancing, conducting daily temperature checks, encouraging employees to stay home when sick, cleaning and disinfecting, and plexiglass dividers where customers and employees interact.
The City of Rapid City announced at the end of October a requirement for City staff who provide face-to-face services to customers, as well as members of the public entering city buildings, to wear a facial covering. Masks will be provided if necessary, and any person who refuses to wear a mask will be refused services. In addition, customers are being encouraged to utilize different options to reduce visits to city buildings, such as the use of online payments, calling, or email communications.
Governor Noem has repeatedly expressed a high value on individual choice as well as individual responsibility. She recently reiterated one of the best things people can do to stop the spread of the virus is wash their hands. It is not likely that a state-wide mask mandate will be issued by the Governor’s office any time soon, even with the increase in COVID-19 cases across the state.
Ultimately, in South Dakota it is up to each individual business to determine how they want to operate and if they want to require masks and other safety measures. For businesses that want to stay open and want to ensure healthy customers and healthy employees, they will have to find the best way to implement guidelines and actions to meet those goals. Then, it is also up to the customer, client or consumer to determine whether they want to support certain businesses. In the end, it is a business strategy in appealing to the customer (and their health/safety concerns) and ensuring the company or organization is the type of place customers will want to frequent.