Noem says virus is spreading; plans emergency order


SIOUX FALLS (AP) – Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday told South Dakotans to brace for a months-long fight with COVID-19, as she announced the emergence of seven more cases and signs that it's spreading in communities.

So far, the governor has tried to address the global COVID-19 pandemic by pinpointing cases and trying to limit widespread exposure to the community. But her messaging took a turn as she said infections will continue to increase. She planned to issue an emergency order later Monday.

It appeared the order would be more guidance than decree. When Noem was asked about possibilities like sheltering in place, closing non-essential businesses or halting elective surgeries, she said the order would clarify what she has the power to do.

Noem has said that state law on some of her emergency powers is “murky," and that instead she is relying on strong messaging to communities where cases have been found.

She gave a simple message to people concerned with being infected: “Stay home. Don't go anywhere.”

The South Dakota constitution does not grant the governor wide-ranging emergency powers, according to Patrick Garry, a state constitution expert at the University of South Dakota law school.

“The governor is probably right that the people with the most authority for closing bars and restaurants would be the mayors," Garry said.

A patchwork of city and county actions has emerged during the outbreak. Huron closed bars and eat-in restaurants just hours after Noem on Sunday announced six more cases in the area. The Rapid City Council took the first step to shuttering non-essential businesses. And the Sioux Falls Health Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the possibility of doing the same.

The state has recorded 28 people with COVID-19, including one who died and three who are hospitalized. Noem said she believes there is an untraceable outbreak, known as “community spread,” in Beadle County after a rash of cases emerged from that area over the weekend.

The Republican governor warned that up to 30% of people could become infected with the coronavirus and the number of infections could increase until May or June. She said the state will not be testing mass numbers of younger people, but conserving its testing for those with health risks, the elderly and people like healthcare workers who pose a threat of spreading the coronavirus.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe ones can take three to six weeks to get better.

The state is distributing the $4.5 million it received from the federal government to hospitals so they can gear up for an influx of patients, Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said. State authorities have also been working with the National Guard to prepare in case hospitals are inundated.

The governor also said the state's call center for unemployment claims has been flooded with calls. The call center is more-than doubling its staff and increasing the number of lines.

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