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South Dakota lawmaker says she’ll stay away from Capitol

December 29, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota lawmaker said she will be participating in the upcoming legislative session remotely until she receives a vaccine for COVID-19.

Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, informed legislative leadership she will stay away from the Capitol building during the upcoming legislative session out of concern for her health, the Argus Leader reported. The 64-year-old lawmaker said she would not attend meetings in-person until she receives two doses of a vaccine.

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The Legislature is set to convene in Pierre on Jan. 12 for a two-month session. Rules and protocols for the session have not been set, but may allow lawmakers to participate remotely due to the pandemic.

Duba told legislative leaders in an email that she believes proposed rules in the Capitol are not in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on indoor gatherings.

“I am 64, have mild asthma, and high blood pressure,” she said, adding that if she contracts COVID-19, it could have devastating consequences.

Duba, who works at a school when the Legislature is not in session, may be able to receive the vaccine during the state’s fourth phase of vaccine distribution, when school staff will be given priority.

But it is not clear when the state will reach that phase. South Dakota is currently in the first phase of vaccinations, in which medical workers are prioritized.

The Department of Health has said there are about 30,000 medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities who will be prioritized for vaccines. Health officials told the state’s health care providers in a call Tuesday that nearly 48,000 doses of vaccine have arrived in the state so far and shipments of roughly 11,000 are expected each week until the middle of January.

The state has reported that 15,830 people have now received their first dose of a vaccine. The vaccines currently available, manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots separated by several weeks.

Another Republican lawmaker, Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, of Watertown, confirmed Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19. He said experienced only a deep dry cough that lasted two days and is currently isolating in his Black Hills cabin, the Watertown Public Opinion reported.

Schoenbeck, 62, said he plans to go pheasant hunting with his two dogs this weekend but otherwise will take it easy.

Meanwhile, South Dakota has seen a steady decline in virus cases since a surge in November. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by 47%, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. The Department of Health reported 501 new cases on Wednesday, and the count of people with active infections dropped below 6,000 for the first time since October.

But the number of people hospitalized by the virus increased to 303 people and the positivity rate of RT-PCR tests reported was almost 20%. A positivity rate that high is an indicator that more people could have infections than tests are catching.

Health officials reported no new deaths for a third day. The state has tallied 1,446 deaths from COVID-19, marking the nation’s seventh-highest rate per capita.