South Dakota’s Noem Allows Businesses to Stay Open but Backs Limit on Group Size

As mayors, nurses and doctors across South Dakota urged Gov. Kristi Noem to take action to restrict daily activity, the Republican governor on April 6 dialed up the pressure on businesses and people to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but also doubled-down on allowing businesses to stay open.

Noem has stuck to an approach that errs on the side of limited government action, even as she’s received letters and petitions asking for more action. On Monday she budged a little – issuing two executive orders that more forcefully tell businesses to limit group gatherings to 10 or fewer and urge people in the hardest-hit area of the state to stay home for the next three weeks if they are over 65 or have chronic health conditions. That order only applies to Minnehaha or Lincoln counties, where infections are spreading.

Noem also announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the year.

When Noem was asked what consequences there would be for people that don’t follow her orders, she did not go into specifics.

During her daily briefing, Noem focused attention on the global pandemic’s ripple effects, having members of her cabinet address issues like mental health, massive layoffs and a drop in tourism revenue.

“It’s all hands on deck to get through this,” Noem said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

State health officials earlier in the day reported the highest day-to-day jump in confirmed coronavirus cases as 48 more people tested positive for the disease, bringing the state’s tally to 288. Health officials reported two more people in the state have died, bringing the total to four.

Noem has pointed to the relatively low number of people who have tested positive as evidence her approach is working, saying that the state’s rural geography justifies a different approach than the country’s major cities.

But as the number of cases continues to climb, more South Dakotans are expressing frustration with Noem’s limited action.

More than 160 city and county officials signed onto a letter from the South Dakota Municipal League urging the governor to have the Department of Health declare a public health emergency. The letter argues that declaring a public health emergency would allow them to take more action like ordering non-essential businesses to close.

Noem said she reviewed the letter but did not commit to any action.

Many cities have already ordered businesses to close. Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken took the step of issuing a “safer-at-home” proclamation on Monday. The mayor said the proclamation is not legally enforceable, but hoped the recommendations would cut unnecessary group gatherings.

Noem is also receiving backlash from people online. A petition asking the governor to issue a stay-at-home order has gained more than 25,000 signatures since it was started on Wednesday.

Amy Taylor, the Sioux Falls nurse who started the petition, said, “My fear is that we’re going to wait until it’s too late.”