SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem asked businesses and hospitals to restrict operations, Monday, March 23, as confirmed cases of the coronavirus doubled in two days. The new cases included the first findings of the virus leaping from person to person undetected.
Noem’s executive order asks, but doesn’t command, businesses to consider telework for their employees, limit non-essential travel and offer special shopping hours for those deemed particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
She also asked businesses such as restaurants and bars to limit gatherings of 10 or more people and switch to delivery and take-out options. Hospitals should defer elective surgeries and local governments should also restrict gatherings to fewer than 10 people, she said.
Noem’s newly signed executive order provides some direction for local leaders, who are free to set more stringent restrictions, she said.
“That is something every community in the state of South Dakota will have a chance to do,” she said. “My job as governor is to set a baseline of what that should look like from border to border in the state of South Dakota, and this is what I’m telling our communities and counties to do.”
Noem signed the order the same day state officials say they discovered individuals in three counties who tested positive for COVID-19 with no clear source of the disease, such as travel or another coronavirus-stricken person, a situation public health officials term “community spread.”
The virus is spreading in Beadle, Lyman and Hughes counties, Noem said. Beadle County is now home to 12 people diagnosed with the disease of the state’s now 28 confirmed cases.
Noem didn’t specify if she had the power to enforce her guidelines for businesses in the state. But she did add something of a threat for businesses who didn’t take her request seriously.
“If a business wants to operate in this state, they will follow the direction of this executive order,” she said.
Cities push ahead with tightened restrictions
Leaders of some of the state’s cities were moving to close businesses before the governor’s executive order, as calls mounted for officials at all levels to do more to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said Monday morning he would start the process for the city to close all non-essential businesses in the city, restricting restaurants to only take-out and delivery business.
Rapid City’s city council passed the first reading of an ordinance that would temporarily shutdown non-essential businesses. A second reading of the proposed ordinance is slated for Friday, March 27. Brookings is expected to consider similar action during a meeting Monday.
In Beadle County, home to the most confirmed cases in the state, county commissioners on Sunday approved an emergency ordinance closing on-site business for restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and shuttering gyms, theaters and bowling alleys effective midnight Monday — by far the most wide-ranging action taken by any county in the state to that point to stem the spread of the virus.
Avalanche of test results expected soon
Noem, who has generally described state and local moves to slow the spread of the virus as successful, took a more cautious tone Monday and warned the state’s residents hard days lay ahead, specifically over the next eight weeks.
“I want to remind the public that this is not something that will be over in a week or two,” she said.
State officials are waiting for a relative avalanche of results of pending tests. The state's lab has 277 high-priority tests pending and a private lab has about lower-priority 700 tests pending, with results expected in the next day or two, Noem said.
"We're in a timeframe where we're going to see those positive test results ramp up," she said, adding the state will be able to offer less information on test data as results flow in.
The state’s two largest health systems on Monday announced they would successfully bolster the state’s testing capacity and shorten the time it takes to find out test results.
The COVID-19 toll in the state so far includes one fatality, a man in his 60s from Pennington County, and three people currently hospitalized. Six people have recovered from the disease, Noem said.
Of the seven new positive cases, two are in Beadle County, and one each in Codington, Davison, Hughes, Lyman and McCook counties, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Health. The Hughes County case is an inmate in the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre, she said.
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This report has been updated to correct the county for the inmate in the women's prison.