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South Dakota lawmaker contracts COVID-19 after Pierre trip

December 10, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota state lawmaker has tested positive for the coronavirus days after visiting Gov. Kristi Noem’s mansion and attending the governor’s budget speech at the Legislature.

Sen. Helene Duhamel, a Republican from Rapid City, became ill and tested positive on Wednesday, the day after she was in Pierre meeting with lawmakers, the Argus Leader reported. Duhamel also attended a dinner on Monday night at the governor’s residence and posed in a photo with Noem and other female lawmakers at the Capitol. None wore masks in the photo, which Noem posted on social media.

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Ian Fury, the governor’s spokesman, declined to provide when Noem was last tested for the coronavirus but said she was not in close contact with Duhamel.

“She’s self-monitoring for symptoms, as she does every day, and she feels great,” Fury said.

Duhamel, 58, did not immediately return a request for comment. She is also the public information officer for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department.

The Legislature is scheduled to convene on Jan. 12. Several lawmakers have reported bouts with the coronavirus, including Rep. Bob Glanzer, who was among the first in the state to die from the virus in April.

Health officials reported 30 more deaths from the virus on Thursday, bringing the overall death toll to 1,177 since the start of the pandemic. The state has recorded the nation’s ninth-highest rate of COVID-19 deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

The number of new cases and hospitalizations has declined in recent weeks, but the state still had the nation’s fourth-highest number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins. Roughly one out of every 74 people tested positive in that time. The Department of Health reported 704 new cases Thursday.

Meanwhile, one of the state’s largest health care systems announced plans for a $28 million hospital wing devoted to mental health care in Sioux Falls. Avera Health said it was making the expansion in part to prepare for mental health issues stemming from the pandemic, though there was already a shortage of psychiatric resources in the region. It will also have facilities for youth and psychiatric urgent care.

“The next big wave of stress will be to mental health,” said Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is donating $13 million to the project.