Noem asks restaurants, businesses to restrict operations
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday issued an executive order asking businesses to restrict gatherings and hospitals to postpone elective procedures because COVID-19 is spreading in South Dakota, a move that had some elected officials asking why the Republican was asking for such action rather than demanding it.
Noem’s order leaves enforcement up to counties and cities. It gives what she called “guidelines” for businesses, municipalities and hospitals to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It called on restaurants and retail businesses to offer takeout or limit groups of people to 10 or fewer, and asked hospitals to postpone elective procedures. The governor had tried to address the global COVID-19 pandemic by pinpointing cases but her messaging took a turn on Monday as she said infections will continue to increase.
The pandemic and the response necessary to halt widespread infection is testing South Dakota law on what government authorities can and cannot do.
While governors around the country have issued orders for sweeping shutdowns, Noem said she was doing what she could given the limitations on her powers.
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.
But one South Dakota law covering the authority of the governor in times of disaster allows her to suspend rules for state agencies and restrict the movement of people. That law also says the disaster response has to be “beyond local government capability.”
Pressed at a news conference on what consequences businesses would face for not following her order’s guidance, she said: “If a business wants to operate in this state, they will follow the direction of this executive order.” But she gave no details on how that could be enforced.
Some mayors said recommendations aren’t enough.
“It loses a lot of the teeth without a more universal approach,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said.
Without a statewide edict, a patchwork of city and county actions has emerged. 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 TenHaken was pushing the Sioux Falls Health Board to close businesses.
Ordering businesses to close is a move no politician wants to make, said Bob Everson, the mayor of Mitchell. He’d rather see the governor take the heat for pulling the trigger on closing businesses.
“It’s a lot of pressure to put on a mayor,” he said. “Realistically you’re going to see a major economic impact.”
South Dakota has 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including one death and three people who are hospitalized. Monday’s update included news that a woman in the South Dakota Women’s Prison had tested positive.
Noem warned that up to 30% of people in South Dakota, about 240,000 people, could become infected with the coronavirus and the number of infections could increase until May or June.
Some municipal officials have complained that they are getting little information from the state on cases in their area.
In Huron, part of a county where Noem believes there is “community spread”after 12 people tested positive, local officials said they have not received details on who is infected or where they live. Community spread means it’s not clear how an infected person contracted the virus and its origin can’t be traced.
“All we’re pretty much getting is the press releases from the governor’s office,” said Huron Police Capt. Mark Johnson.
Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said the state cannot give details on people who are infected because it is protected by privacy laws.
The state’s two largest hospital systems also announced on Monday they can now run a combined 600 COVID-19 tests a day.
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.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak