Relaxation of a Flandreau city ordinance regulating bars, restaurants and other businesses has some owners reopening after more than a month of being closed because of the threat of COVID-19.
Deb Feske, owner of The Personal Touch, opened her salon a week ago, the day after the city council permitted salons to be open as long as they followed safety and sanitary guidelines.
“We are six-foot distancing,” Feske said. “We are cleaning after each customer, sanitizing everything.” Customers and the hair stylists are required to wear masks, and Feske is only taking appointments ahead of time.
She and employee Janel Kneebone also moved salon chairs so they are more than six feet apart.
From a business perspective, it was time to reopen after shutting down on April 4, she said. Clients have kept her appointment book busy as they try and catch up to haircuts and other salon services they have been without for too long.
The Flandreau City Council revised its ordinance last week, allowing salons to open and bars and restaurants to allow more people inside the establishments.
Owner Jamie Gaspar at The Spot Drive-In never closed her business when the ordinance was first imposed but can add more inside seating with a maximum of 25 people instead of the previous nine, for example.
All along, she has been asking customers to use drive-up or call in orders ahead of time, keeping customers outside the building as much as possible, she said.
Fat Boys Bar reopened Monday, with some changes, including a 50 percent maximum capacity. The bar also implemented one-time use straws, napkins and drink cups. Tables are six feet apart.
The council decided on a half-way point for easing bars and restaurants back into providing inside seating and reopening their businesses.
All but Jason Unger voted to approve the plan.
Unger and Alderman Brad Bjerke took opposite positions. Bjerke wanted to take all restrictions off and let businesses follow the state guidelines, while Unger wanted to keep restrictions in place for at least the remaining 30 days of the ordinance and until more testing for coronavirus takes place and the community knows that the number of cases are going down.
Moody County’s number of total positive cases rose to double digits last week, placing it near the top 10 among counties in the state.
“I don’t think we need to be in the business of regulating business,” Bjerke told other council members. He wanted to give businesses the choice to decide, while following state guidelines, and wanted to give residents the opportunity to decide if they want to patronize those businesses.
“I think with the opening around the state, they’re trying to do that with more regulations,” he said. “They (businesses) will all comply. “I think we ought to take (emergency Ordinance) 596 and loosen that up so everyone can open.”
Unger said Gov. Krisi Noem has left the issue up to local decisions. “Well, that’s us,” he said. “Governments are in the business of regulating businesses. That’s what they’re called to do. When it’s a manner of public safety that’s exactly what government should do,” Unger said. Moody County borders Minnehaha County, which has had a majority of cases in the state, including a flare up at Smithfield Foods.
“I think it’s a risky gamble at this point (to open things up),” Unger said. “I know it’s been a tremendous strain on businesses.” He said he was concerned that if businesses open up, the virus will be more easily transferred within the community.
Bjerke said he’s concerned there won’t be businesses to go back to if they can’t do more businesses. That, in turn, would mean vacant houses in town, he said. “We need to build confidence in our people of our cities and counties and state.”
Bjerke offered a motion to allow bars, restaurants and coffee houses to reopen and advise them to follow state guidelines, but it died for a lack of a second.
Instead council members supported a motion 5-1 to allow the establishments to reopen at 50 percent while maintaining a six-foot distance between parties and while following the Center for Disease Control sanitation guidelines. The motion was proposed by Alderman Don Whitman, who said the city can relax a few things, and seconded by Dan Sutton.
“This is sort of a step in between,” Whitman said. “It’s what a lot of people are doing to try and ease back in.”
Alderman Karen Tufty said maybe in a month, things will be better. “I do think we should be very cautious,” she said. “I don’t want to get it. I don’t want to see anyone else get it.
Maybe we could start just a little bit and see how it goes.”
Mayor Mark Bonrud also supported continuing to be cautious as a community and said the people of Flandreau and Moody County have done a good job social distancing. But the number of deaths in the country will keep growing for awhile, he said. “The forecast doesn’t look good for the United States.”
Bonrud said it is naïve to think COVID-19 is just the flu because it isn’t, and the community hopes local residents don’t contract it and have to be hospitalized.
“This is killing people,” he said.
“This is my greatest concern. I understand people have a living to make, and I understand the hardship that the whole world is going through. I consider a person’s life more valuable than we’re where talking about here,” he said. “I personally just want to keep people alive.”