Unemployment numbers rose to historical levels, Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday, noting 6,152 claims were filed this week.
Last week, Noem said 8,100 claims were seen in the Department of Labor and Regulation.
“We’re seeing some unfortunate records here,” she said, noting the average weekly claims before the COVID-19 pandemic was 150.
Noem said next week’s unemployment numbers would be “even worse” as the Pandemic Unemployment Application becomes available for self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and freelancers. Previously, they could not file for benefits and had to wait until the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance plan was available.
The Governor Noem Small Business Relief Fund approved more applications Thursday morning, Noem said, noting she’s received hundreds of applications.
“If you are a small business in South Dakota that’s struggling to pay your utility bills, to keep your doors open, to pay rent and you have a model that shows that the virus is impacting your business, please reach out to us,” Noem said.
“We will help you get through this situation and make sure you have an opportunity to stay in business and keep your employees employed and can continue to make South Dakota your home and pursue your dreams,” she added.
Noem also said she would still not consider placing a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.
“We are working with folks that have housing developments and business owners to help them get through difficult situations so they can work with the folks that are in their facilities,” Noem said. “But I will not be taking any action to stop those types of evictions.”
Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen announced Thursday that they’re still planning for the annual motorcycle rally in August. When asked if the rally is a concern for her, Noem said it’s “OK for them to start planning.”
“They’ll have to be flexible, and we’ll continue to evaluate in the coming days the status of the rally,” she said. “To proactively plan for the rally is fine, knowing that we may have to adjust it or address it in the coming days. Literally every day, things are changing.”
The Sturgis Rally is set for August 7 to 16 and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors every year from across the nation and other countries to western South Dakota.
Noem also again asked South Dakotans to continue to limit group sizes to 10 people, continue social distancing, stay home as much as possible and leave only for essential trips.
“That is how we slow this down so that we can take care of everybody,” she said Thursday afternoon.
Noem said a team from the CDC went through Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls on Thursday morning and would have a report in the coming days about how the outbreak played out there.
She also said she’s working to get the plant back open when it’s safe for employees and in a timeframe helpful for agricultural producers and hog farmers.
So far, 598 Smithfield workers and 135 of their contacts have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Sioux Falls plant has around 3,700 employees. Statewide, 1,311 have tested positive.
Noem said the important numbers to focus on “as a state and as a country” are the number of hospitalizations in South Dakota. She said 36 people are hospitalized across the state Thursday with COVID-19, and the state is planning for 5,000 hospitalizations at its peak infection rate in June.
Kim Malsam-Rysdon, state health secretary, said the lack of testing of asymptomatic people is a uniform guidance that is not unique to South Dakota.
She said there is “aggressive” testing of people with mild symptoms in Minnehaha County, though, “to ensure we are able to identify all possible positive cases and effectively help them quarantine.”