HURON -- With what is believed to be South Dakota's first community spread of COVID-19 leading to a swell in positive cases, the city of Huron and Beadle County decided Sunday to put restrictions on businesses.
During a joint meeting of the Huron City Commission and Beadle County Commission, the city and county each passed an ordinance and resolution closing recreational facilities, halting dine-in service at all restaurants and bars and banning gatherings of 10 or more people socially or at a business beginning Monday. The decision marks the first government-mandated business restrictions in the state aimed at reducing the virus' spread.
"We've had this ready to go," Huron City Commissioner Mark Robish told The Daily Republic. "You don't ever want to pull that trigger on the businesses, but when it comes down to public safety, you have to."
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, 28 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the state, 12 of which are in Beadle County, which is the only county in South Dakota determined to have substantial community spread. Community spread of any level has not been identified anywhere else in the state.
"The information that we got from the Department of Health was initially that all of (the cases) were travel-related, and we haven't gotten any specifics as far as if it was from Person A giving it to Person B in a household, or along those lines," said Huron Police Captain Mark Johnson, who serves as the public information officer for the Beadle County Unified Command COVID-19 Task Force. "But they are considering it community-spread now."
The city and county's nearly identical ordinances, which went into effect at midnight on Monday, don't have a designated end date. Restaurants can continue providing carryout, drive-thru or delivery services. Grocery stores, convenience stores and food pantries that provide food for off-site consumption are exempt, as are food service in long-term care and health care facilities, shelters and hotel room service.
Johnson said penalties for violating the new regulations will be determined at the county and city levels but have not been finalized.
Rhonda Sprecher, owner of Don't Spill the Beans in Huron, said Sunday's orders won't change much for Huron's restaurants, as most have had their dining rooms closed for a week or more. Sprecher said the city's movie theater had also voluntarily closed well before resolutions went into effect Monday.
"Our community has worked very well at that without having to be told, because we don't want to get sick either," said Sprecher, who has now closed both of her cafe's locations.
Huron Mayor Paul Aylward, Beadle County Commission Chairman Denis Drake and Beadle County Commissioner Tom Hansen did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Other SD cities continuing recommendations, not mandates
Huron is the only city in South Dakota to mandate closure of businesses in response to COVID-19, and Beadle County is the only county. Rapid City read a similar ordinance Sunday, but it has not gone into effect.
Cities close to Huron in population have all implemented some combination of closing or restricting access to city-run buildings, asking people not to gather in large groups and advising businesses to closely monitor their employees' travel histories and symptoms. No other cities around Huron's size have put similar measures in place, though Yankton officials plan to discuss the possibility of implementing an ordinance similar to Huron's on Monday night and Tuesday.
"I think we'll continue to review the situation as it evolves," said Brooke Bohnenkamp, communications manager for the city of Pierre, where city hall is still open but the library and aquatic center have been closed and senior exercise programming has been suspended.
Mayor Bob Everson said Mitchell is also monitoring the situation day by day, but that he believes the city hasn't seen any community spread of COVID-19.
"We do know there is a contingency of people in Huron who commute here to work. We sent a request to the Mitchell Manufacturing Association suggesting they look at screening employees who are coming into work as an effort to help flatten the curve on this," Everson said. "At this time, we're not doing anything relative to forcing that. We're simply putting out that we recommend it."
Watertown Mayor Sarah Caron and Brookings Mayor Keith Corbett did not respond to The Daily Republic's calls on Monday requesting information on whether their cities have plans to mandate business closures.
Huron businesses, health care facility work to stay prepared
Kim Rieger, spokesperson for the Huron Regional Medical Center, said the facility has spent more than two weeks preparing for the potential spread of the virus, with leadership meeting regularly to reassign staff as needed. She said with every positive case in Beadle County currently being handled outpatient, the pandemic hasn't overwhelmed the hospital's 325 employees.
"Currently, we have no hospitalized COVID patients," Rieger said. " ...We're just preparing and getting ready for what we imagine will be more high-priority patients in the future."
Information on the handful of employees who wouldn't be able to work without childcare, Rieger said, has been passed along to the Huron School District, which is in the process of setting up emergency care for the children of first responders and health care workers.
Discussion at the district's school board meeting Monday indicated that childcare will begin Tuesday morning at the middle school and is expected to provide care for 13 children while schools remain closed statewide. Fifty-two district staff members volunteered to supervise the emergency program. Superintendent Terry Nebelsick also indicated the district is continuing to pay its employees and is working on strategies to turn its meal program into a drive-thru system.
Sprecher said while she's proud Huron business owners have taken precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ensuring small businesses can stay afloat after the pandemic stops and restaurants reopen is going to be difficult.
"The funding hasn't been available for small businesses. People need to realize, when you own a small business, you don't get to apply for unemployment. I've had all my employees apply for unemployment, because I think that's what's fair to them," Sprecher said. " ... "Yeah, you can apply for a small business loan, but it's a loan. You have to be making enough money down the road to make the payments."
Mark Heuston, HR director for Dakota Provisions in Huron, said the newly-passed restrictions on restaurants will likely cut down the meat processing plant's business supplying restaurants but could also be benefited by people relying more heavily on grocery stores.
"We're at full capacity. Customers are certainly going to expect luncheon meat at this time, since restaurants are closed," Heuston said. "Our supply of turkey does not end each day because of coronavirus."
Heusten said the facility is now sanitizing every access point every hour and that employee hygiene is maintained both by wearing protective equipment such as rubber gloves and the company's 20-second-minimum hand washing policy, which was part of employee training before the COVID-19 outbreak and on which employees were recently retrained.
Additionally, Heusten said the company has ensured that any employee who leaves the country is quarantined until they've been back for two weeks. He said Dakota Provisions has tested several employees either for their travel history or exhibiting symptoms, but that none of those tests have been positive for the virus.
"We're just going day by day and trying to keep employees and our customers safe," he said.