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Governor unveils plan to get South Dakota ‘back to normal’

April 28, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem unveiled her plan Tuesday to get South Dakota “back to normal” by encouraging schools and businesses to allow limited gatherings and cautioning people to continue to keep their distance from one another.

Noem continued to stress that she wouldn’t force people to take precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, though she acknowledged the relaxed recommendations could result in flareups in infections. She said she would handle those as they come, issuing orders county by county.

Noem said her plan is all about putting decision-making “into the hands of the people.” She began her announcement by acknowledging that people who lose loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic “will never be able to return to normal” before she shifted her focus to its effects on social interactions, the economy and education.

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She is advising businesses to open their doors to customers and employees while taking precautions such as keeping people spread apart and taking their temperatures. She is also asking schools to consider consider hosting small groups of students in school to check in with them before the school year ends. Some schools have reported that they have not heard from students since closing, the governor said.

While warning health care providers that the state cannot provide personal protective equipment, Noem asked them to reserve 30% of hospital beds and extra protective equipment as the state prepares for a surge in hospitalizations.

State health officials believe the peak of infections will come in mid-June when hospitals will need to care for 2,200 people. State epidemiologist Josh Clayton explained they decreased the estimate of hospital beds needed from previous projections due to new data on the rate of people infected who will need hospital care and the average time they spend in the hospital.

The state had previously expected to need 5,000 hospital beds at the peak of infections. Clayton said they are still preparing to be able to have that many if necessary.

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon also said the state currently has the capacity to test 3,000 people a day and is working to be able to test up to 5,000. But she said testing will only be available to people who have COVID-19 symptoms.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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Health officials reported 68 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state on Tuesday, including 59 cases in Minnehaha County. There were no new deaths reported, leaving the state’s COVID-19 death toll at 11.

The state has had 2,313 confirmed cases of the disease since the outbreak began. Of those, 1,939 of have been in Minnehaha County, which is the location of Smithfield Foods, a pork processing plant that shut down indefinitely after hundreds of employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The actual number of COVID-19 infections is thought to be far higher than the number of confirmed because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Noem offered no guarantees her plan will stand.

She said, “We will be more than willing to come back if we start to see more spread and people getting sick, that we will put more mitigation measures in place.”

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak