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South Dakota cities, counties take action on COVID-19

March 27, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota cities across the state have moved to close restaurants and retail stores as Gov. Kristi Noem declines to bring severe restrictions on businesses, despite calls from health experts indicating such a move would curb the spread of COVID-19.

Cities and counties created a patchwork of coronavirus-related action across the state this week, ordering bars, restaurants and retail businesses to close. But as urban centers enforce the emergency laws, some local leaders say they’ve done all they can and now want Noem to take action.

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After Sioux Falls passed an ordinance Thursday to punish businesses with a misdemeanor if they have more than 10 customers inside at a time, Mayor Paul TenHaken said he can’t do much more.

“We’ve taken things 99% of the way,” TenHaken said.

The mayor said he thinks a complete closure of businesses could result in lawsuits against the city. He wanted to see if the state Secretary of Health would declare a public health emergency before taking that step.

Other cities are not waiting. Huron ordered nonessential businesses to shutter after a rash of cases, and the Rapid City Council will consider a similar action Friday night.

Noem said this is the way she wants it. But earlier in the week, she said she doesn’t have the emergency powers to compel business closures, calling her powers in this situation “murky.”

The governor said that if a public health emergency is declared, state officials could quarantine people, but her plan was to allow businesses to keep operating. Some decisions made in larger cities are not “correct and right” for smaller towns, she said.

But Robert Summerer, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, said Noem’s limited action could put rural health care systems at risk. Rural hospitals, which may have the only intensive care units for many miles, could be overrun if COVID-19 transmission is not curbed.

“When we have a rural state like we do, we have to preserve the capabilities of those smaller facilities so they can handle an influx of patients,” Summerer said.

The medical association sent a letter to the governor saying she’s not doing enough to conserve medical supplies and stop COVID-19 transmission. Summerer also said that as cities shut down businesses, people could simply travel outside city limits to go to bars and restaurants.

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Noem contends her approach is working as she encourages, but doesn’t force, people to stay home. State officials reported Friday that 12 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the state’s tally to 58. One has died.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.

Legislators will meet via teleconference on Monday to consider a series of emergency bills pushed by the governor. She reported that the economic fallout from the global pandemic will strike a significant dent in the state budget, predicting that legislators would need to meet again in June to rework the budget.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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