Cities, Counties Piecemeal Outbreak Response Following Gov. Noem Executive Order

Mar 24, 2020

The number of COVID-19 cases in South Dakota will increase in the coming months. As a result, Governor Kristi Noem has released an executive order recommending business and community responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The order is not a legal mandate, even though state law gives the governor such authority during an emergency.

Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order establishing that every South Dakota business and government agency should adhere to important public health guidelines.

“I want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Noem says. “It is my job as governor—in an emergency situation—to set a baseline for what our communities can do. If community leaders want to go above and beyond that. That’s a decision they can make together.”

The governor stopped short of calling it a mandate, which leaves local government to make their own decisions. At least two cities—Rapid City and Huron—have already passed ordinances that shut down certain business. Two others—Sioux Falls and Deadwood—are considering separate measures.
Noem’s executive order came one day after Beadle County reported its positive cases went from six to 10. At that time, Noem declined to call it community spread.  Since then, Beadle County has reported even more positive cases—including one state lawmaker. Governor Noem’s administration now says there IS community spread in three separate counties.

Officials in Huron and Beadle County moved quickly and became the first in the state to close their bars and restaurants—food pick up is still allowed.

“Even though we done it before she put out the guideline, that’s basically what we followed.”

That’s Paul Aylward, the mayor of Huron.

Alyward says he’s glad the governor put out the executive order to back up the actions of the county and the city.

“I thought it would have more force if it came from the governor and included the entire state,” Aylward says. “She has different views on that. We went ahead and we thought it was necessary to protect the citizens of Huron and do everything that we could do.”

It’s an inconsistent approach that concerns Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken. He says the Sioux Falls council could approve action to shut down restaurants, bars and other businesses. However…

“That action applies to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and not to Tea, and not to Harrisburg, not to Lennox, not to Canton, not to Hartford, not to Humbolt, not to Brandon,” TenHaken says. “They would all have to create their own ordinances to comply. You can see where this gets very challenging to enforce this.
The virus does not respect city limits.”

TenHaken says if Sioux Falls acts, other nearby municipalities will need to make their own decision about what to do. TenHaken would prefer a statewide mandate of some kind. He says that would present a consistent response across the state to address the pandemic.

Noem says she doesn’t have that authority. Instead her administration is recommending what municipalities and businesses should be doing.

“This executive order is detailed,” Noem says. “It gives specific guidelines and recommendations on what should be going on in the state of South Dakota. I’ll continue to tell the state what I think they should be doing and what everybody should be doing. We’ll give that type of guidance. It also specifically says to follow CDC guidance as that is the best information we have and to how we can control this virus and protect as many people as possible.”

State law gives the Governor the authority to place restrictions on people and businesses during an emergency.  

Leaders in Rapid City also acted before the governor issued her executive order. Rapid City officials approved the first reading of an ordinance that could order many non-essential businesses to shut down. Mayor Steve Allender says he’s pleased with the local response.

“We’re on the right path. It may embolden other communities to take action,” said Allender.

Dozens attended a Sunday night city council meeting in what’s becoming a fierce debate between economic and public health responses. Rapid City will have a second and final vote on Friday to shutter non-essential businesses. Grocery and gas stations will remain open. Restaurants and bars can offer curbside pickup.

Deadwood’s City Council is considering a similar restriction, along with an ordinance that would require casinos to close.

Nathan Sanderson is the executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association. He says retailers  haven’t responses to him about the governor’s executive order because they’re already working with  public health guidelines. Sanderson says businesses are hungry for some guidance because they’re navigating conflicting battles.

“It’s not whether they themselves are going to go under or not—although that’s certainly a possibility,” Sanderson says. “They’re not thinking of themselves first. They’re thinking of their employees first. So, when they’re forced to close, it’s not just their own lives that are impacted, it’s all their employees. A little bit of guidance, helping them navigate that space, is very welcome.”

State officials say models predicting the number of COVID-19 cases in South Dakota may peak in May.