SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- As the coronavirus spreads in South Dakota, city leaders are weighing how much they should close down local businesses, moves that all but guarantee a patchwork of restricted areas across the state.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced the state had found two more cases of the coronavirus, bringing the state total to 30, she said Tuesday, March 24. She also recommended the state’s public K-12 schools remain closed through May 1.

"Our projections are that our number of infections will continue to go up," she said.

The new cases provided more evidence the virus was spreading undetected throughout the state, known as community spread. State and local health officials say there is now community spread in four counties: Beadle, Lyman, Hughes and McCook.

The rising numbers of cases has put local leaders in a bind: should they hobble their local economies to fight an invisible, growing menace, or take more of a wait-and-see approach?

‘Virus does not respect city limits’

Paul TenHaken, mayor of Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, has generally been a vocal advocate for taking a hard line and hinting he would far prefer a uniform, statewide strategy to slow the spread of virus, not what he called a “patchwork approach” through which the coronavirus could slip.

“The virus does not respect city limits,” TenHaken said Monday morning, although he pulled back from a previous nod toward the city Board of Health ordering non-essential businesses closed.

Noem’s guidelines for South Dakota businesses, issued Monday, fell far short of the tight restrictions and mandated business closures issued by many other state governors, a move she described as setting a baseline for leaders across the state who were free to make their own decisions.

Noem’s recommendations called for businesses like restaurants and bars to stop in-person sales, restrict gatherings of 10 or more people and move to carryout and delivery only.

Some local leaders are rolling out ordinances to limit business, but implementation could take matter of days. Rapid City leaders are considering an emergency ordinance to close restaurants, bars and similar businesses, but won’t give it more consideration until Friday.

“We’re going to have a lot more evidence of what the current situation is by Friday,” said Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender in a video update posted Monday.

Other leaders took to the minimum guidelines laid out by Noem. In Pierre, the state capital, Mayor Steve Harding said wouldn’t enact an ordinance more restrictive than what Noem provided.

“We all understand these are hard decisions and a hardship for our business community,” he wrote in a statement.

Other cities moved swiftly to close local businesses to stem the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Brookings city leaders on Monday ordered the closure of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys, among other businesses, according to the Brookings Register.

‘All the positive COVID-19 cases... are Caucasian’

In Beadle County, home to 13 cases of the illness and is one of three counties experiencing community spread, local leaders on Sunday closed recreational facilities, inside service at bars and restaurants and limited gatherings to 10 or more people effective Monday.

But, there were the rumors.

In nearby Davison County, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson posted a video online Tuesday afternoon swatting down rumors that immigrants traveling between the two counties for work were spreading coronavirus.

“The Department of Health confirmed to this point there are no immigrants in Huron that have the virus,” he told viewers. “At this point, their travel should not be consequential to anybody.”

Late the same day, Beadle County had its say. Paul Aylward, mayor of Huron, the county seat of Beadle County, issued a statement of his own defending his city’s welcome to those of all ethnicities, and reminding everyone the entire community was in the battle together.

“This pandemic does not discriminate against anyone,” he wrote. “The South Dakota Department of Health verified to city officials all the positive COVID-19 cases in Beadle County are Caucasian.”

Other news:

  • The two new cases are in Beadle and Brookings counties.

  • Two individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 are hospitalized, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the Department of Health.

  • Eight individuals with COVID-19 have recovered, Noem said.

  • The South Dakota Board of Regents said it was moving all classes online for the remainder of the semester at the state’s six public universities.

  • State employees should continue to tele-work through May, Noem ordered.

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