Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender did not mince words at a Wednesday news conference on how important it is for residents to practice personal responsibility in a time of a public health crisis.
“The overall assessment, and this is an opinion on my part, is that the public is just not taking this issue seriously enough,” Allender said. “We are standing around, sitting around waiting for this to be over sometime in the next few days, perhaps. We are irritated that businesses are closed. Some are outwardly defying the social distance recommendations and are offering to have parties where they defy all of these things.
“One common comment from citizens is that government shouldn’t run our lives and I’m going to take my chances. This is a lot of narrow-mindedness on this particular disease. You’re welcome to take your chances, but you’re not welcome to infect the rest of us who are trying to be safe.”
The Rapid City Common Council will meet at 6 p.m. Friday for the final reading of an ordinance that will force some businesses and recreational activities to cease because of the coronavirus outbreak. If passed, the ordinance will go into effect at 7 p.m. Friday and be in effect for a period of up to 60 days unless it is repealed or revised.
Allender said based on the spread of coronavirus and residents openly defying the Centers for Disease Control recommendations, he feels that Rapid City government may have acted too late.
“With the government intervention, this is a perfect example of how government comes to a conclusion, implements some mitigation, and finds out that we should have done that a week ago. There’s no way to go back a week, so we have a week where we know we haven’t acted quickly enough,” Allender said.
Because of some residents not acting on their own to limit exposure and mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Allender said it is unfortunate, but necessary, that government step in to take action.
“There is clear evidence to me, to the team we are working with, to the medical providers, to other states and jurisdictions that this is the time to take action on a personal and organizational/governmental level,” Allender said. “Who do you want to take the action? That’s my question for the public today. Whose action should it be? Are you going to take the action yourself, or are you going to wait on the government to solve this? Government doesn’t do well with solving issues like this in America.”
The mayor said he understands that when government takes action, it is seemed by some as an affront to freedom, justice and liberty.
“We’re up against a virus, but we are also up against a human behavior that’s going to make mitigating and controlling the spread and the timeline of that virus (difficult),” Allender said. “Human behavior will end up being the thing that pushes us to the out-of-control, when we’re not doing a great job of mitigating this as a community or nation. You should decide if you want to take that action yourself, or push a reactive, government machine into protective mode to start regulating more and more and more.”
A patient who tested positive for coronavirus at Monument Health was also a caregiver there who worked in the cancer care institute.
People at the highest risk for contracting severe and fatal symptoms for COVID-19 include immunocompromised individuals, which includes those undergoing cancer treatments.
Paulette Davidson, CEO and President of Monument Health, estimated Wednesday at a press conference that the patient, who has only been identified as a woman, came into contact with 100 patients, 10 other caregivers and two physicians. Most patients were in an ambulatory area, she said.
She also said the patient's exposure was related to travel somewhere within the U.S.
Davidson said Monument Health first learned of the positive test result Tuesday and immediately began working through its protocols to identify who came into contact with the caregiver.
The caregiver had to provide a list of everyone she came into contact with, which was sent to the state Department of Health (DOH). The DOH is investigating the situation and has contacted each individual that the patient was in contact with to notify them of their exposure.
The 112 people who were exposed to the caregiver are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days at home as they monitor their symptoms and practice social distancing from other people. Internal teams at Monument Health will continue communication with those patients and are monitoring their symptoms.
"What makes this situation unique is that those who may have been exposed are also our patients," Davidson said. "This group of caregivers and physicians has been notified and sent home to quarantine based on CDC guidelines."
Davidson said that Monument Health activated additional cleaning procedures in the positive caregiver's work area.
Dr. Brad Archer, chief medical officer for Monument Health, said physicians and care teams are working on strategies to keep the 112 exposed individuals safe at home while maintaining their health care.
"The same group of clinicians is working to manage supplies, testing equipment and personal protective equipment in the middle of national shortages," Archer said.
Davidson said Monument Health is doing "OK" with staffing.
"We've limited our elective surgical procedures, so we're able to use many of our staff that were in those roles and have them step into other roles," Davidson said. "We actually have a staffing pool so we can use some of our talented people in new roles if needed."
Following suit with Sanford Health and Avera on the other side of the state, Monument Health is working to get its own testing equipment and capability in the Black Hills.
Davidson said they are currently testing patients with high-risk symptoms at the state health lab in Pierre and sending tests to the Mayo Clinic laboratories for patients with lower-risk symptoms.
"That's working well for us. I anticipate mid-April to the end of April being able to process our own tests in our own laboratory," Davidson said.
Dr. Archer said that if Monument Health can set up its own lab by then, testing results would be available to patients in a matter of minutes.
South Dakota jumped from 30 to 41 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The new cases include individuals in Brown, Lincoln and Meade counties and eight new cases in Minnehaha County. The case in Meade County is a caregiver at Monument Health.
The state Department of Health classifies both Beadle and Minnehaha Counties as having substantial community spread, meaning that there are five or more cases of community-acquired COVID-19 in the county.
Hughes, Lyman, McCook and Lincoln Counties have minimal to moderate community spread at this time, meaning there is a single case of community-acquired COVID-19 in a county not related to travel.
There are now 268 pending tests in Pierre and 819 negatives.
Of the positive cases, 13 of 41 have recovered, 22 of 41 are men and 19 are women.
Instead of taking questions from reporters or announcing new cases in her daily briefing Wednesday, Gov. Kristi Noem addressed the public directly.
"I want you to understand that we are doing our absolute best. Our best is very good," Noem said. "I want to ask each and every one of you to pause. To take a step back."
Noem told stories of grocery store employees breaking down to customers about their daily fears; about her own staffers who work upwards of 60 to 70 hours a week to deliver answers to the press and the public; about overworked health care professionals in the state.
"Last night, I had a staffer that was trying to pick up groceries, and she asked the cashier when she went through the line how she was doing," Noem said. "Unprompted, this woman got very emotional. She started to get tears in her eyes, and she said 'I'm really scared.' For several minutes, this cashier outlined all of her fears and what was keeping her awake at night, and I understand that."
Noem said the state is in the fight against COVID-19 "for the long haul."
"For South Dakota, we expect that this will take many, many weeks, perhaps even months to run its course," Noem said. "I have state employees who are quite literally working around the clock."
Inmates at the women's prison in Pierre and their loved ones say prisoners fear for their safety after a fellow inmate tested positive for the coronavirus.
They also said the inmate who tested positive recently cleaned the Capitol building and is now isolated in a solitary confinement cell.
"They're telling us to stay away from each other, but it's not possible," said a woman housed in the minimum-security unit where the woman who tested positive lived. The nine women who walked away Monday evening did so "because they were scared of COVID-19."
We're "really panicking" in here, said Glenabah Tulley, an inmate in the main unit. People feel like "it's not if we get it, it's when we get it."
“They're all watching the news too, they're all as freaked out” as the rest of us, said the mother of an inmate in the main unit.
The Journal spoke with two inmates directly and five mothers who've recently spoken with their incarcerated daughters. The Journal has confirmed the identifies of all inmates by looking them up on the Department of Corrections website, but is not naming those who fear they will be punished for speaking out.
Held in solitary
Roberta Zens said her daughter, Amanda Watts, and the woman who got COVID-19 had been cleaning the empty Capitol building after March 17, when the DOC said they halted all outside jobs. Lawmakers last met at the Capitol on March 12, according to the session calendar.
Tulley said inmates who collect laundry have been able to speak with the woman, who said she is feeling OK and shared that she had been working in the Capitol. She said she knows the woman is in solitary confinement because she works in the kitchen where there is a list of inmates and where they are housed.
A mother of an inmate housed in the main unit said her daughter called last Friday after she was released from solitary confinement. The daughter said that an inmate was moved into solitary the same day she was released and was talking about awaiting COVID-19 test results.
The positive test result was announced Monday.
Women who feel sick are scared to tell staff because they're "afraid of being thrown in the hole," the minimum security inmate said. Zens said her daughter isn't feeling well "but doesn’t want to say anything," because if she's put in solitary, she won't be able to call her.
Multiple sources said that other inmates are having symptoms of COVID-19, awaiting test results and/or being isolated in solitary confinement.
Maggie Seidel, spokeswoman for Gov. Noem, said the DOC and Department of Health are following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in order to prevent and treat any coronavirus cases in the prisons.
She said she can't comment on where the inmate who tested positive is being isolated, or if she worked in the Capitol building.
Seidel said the DOH notifies everyone who comes into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, and that if the DOH was concerned about a possible mass exposure to the public, it would issue a news release.
The minimum-security inmate and a former foster mother of a woman housed there both say that the women share rooms with each other. The inmate said there are nine women in each room, which have three triple-layer bunk beds. The woman said her former foster daughter is in a room with five other women.
But the inmate, Zens and another mother said that for the past several days, more than 200 minimum-security inmates have had to spend part of the day in a visitor's room while outside workers do construction work. Some mentioned that heaters were being taken out and replaced. They said the women go into the room at 7 a.m. before leaving around 3 or 3:30 p.m.
“It’s like elbow to elbow for eight hours," Zens said. They're “crammed together like bunch of sardines," the other mother said.
Zens said she's not sure if the women still have to go in that room since they protested Monday after learning that their fellow inmate contracted COVID-19. She said a corrections officer began crying and saying they were scared, too.
“They’re not being protected either, their lives are in danger as well," Zens said of the prison staff.
Seidel said there are about 180 women in the minimum-security unit but can't comment if it's been overcapacity in the past or if they've had to spend part of the day in a visitor's room.
The former foster mother said that her former foster daughter recently called her with "a zillion" questions because the inmates are afraid and have some wrong information about COVID-19.
She said her former foster daughter explained that inmates have no hand sanitizer or masks for those who feel sick, but are frequently cleaning their rooms with wipes. She looked up the ingredient on the wipes and told her former foster daughter that wipes will indeed help kill bacteria and viruses.
The woman said she doesn't condone the escape but hopes it's "recognized as an early warning of the volume of emotions that have been stirred and the level of fear that exists."
"I hope the state takes a close look at and gets an early and stronger method of educating these women to avoid more attempts at escaping," she said.
A mother of a minimum-security inmate who spoke with her daughter Wednesday morning said she is afraid her daughter has the virus because she had a fever that morning and has had diarrhea for the past two days. And she said her daughter has a week immune system after surviving a serious staph infection several years ago.
Fever is a common COVID-19 symptom and some patients have diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization. And people with weak immune systems are more likely to be harmed by the virus, according to the CDC.
The woman said her daughter shared that inmates feel panicked, they are running low on toilet paper, and are being served spoiled food.
“I can see why the nine of them busted out and escaped," the mother said.
Zens said her daughter has been calling multiple times a day and shared that the prison added a portable hand-washing station to their unit. But she said she still fears for her daughter's safety and "can't do anything about it" since she's in prison.
Zens said she's been reading about how other states are releasing low-level offenders or those who are near the end of their sentence and wishes South Dakota would do the same.
Some South Dakota jails are releasing pre-trial detainees but Gov. Noem and the DOC said they have no plans for special coronavirus-related releases in the state prisons.
The minimum security inmate said she knows that President Donald Trump and others are advising Americans to stay away from others.
"That is not feasible for us. So what does that mean for us women here" in prison, she asked. "What are we supposed to do?"
I'm “just trying to keep her calm," said the mother of the woman who was recently released from solitary confinement.
She said the prisoners still have to do their jobs cleaning the prison and working in the kitchen. She said an inmate was given gloves and a mask to wear while cleaning out the solitary confinement cells. The woman said the inmates have free soap in common areas, but if they want soap in their cells, they need to buy it.
The mother said she's afraid if her daughter gets sick because she's had trouble obtaining proper health care in the prison in the past.
Tulley said that she's afraid for a fellow inmate who had a temperature two nights ago and is short of breath — both symptoms of COVID-19.
“She can barely breathe” and feels like she needs an inhaler, Tulley said.
Tulley said inmates are given masks and gloves while doing laundry but she only has gloves when she works in the kitchen. She said she's worried corrections officers aren't changing their gloves enough and is concerned that inmates still have to swipe a finger through their mouth when taking medicine to prove that they've swallowed it.
”I’m really concerned for my daughter,” said Tulley's mother Jean Roach.
Roach said her daughter has diabetes (a risk factor for COVID-19) and high-blood pressure, so she sent a letter to Gov. Noem asking for a compassionate release.