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Coronavirus: SD governor refuses questions as cases surge to 41

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota’s confirmed cases of coronavirus took the single biggest daily jump so far, with 11 new cases bringing the state’s total to 41, according to state officials Wednesday, March 25.

In a hastily announced press conference, Gov. Kristi Noem refused to answer questions from reporters about the coronavirus and didn’t provide new information about cases in the state.

Instead, she read a speech describing the hard work of state employees and encouraging South Dakotans to take a break from their smartphones and focus on positive things.

“Even if just for a little bit today, would you please consider taking a step back? Press pause. Go for a walk,” she said. “Be quiet for today and really reflect on the good things that we do have.”

Updated testing numbers showing a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases were posted to the state’s coronavirus information page minutes after Noem spoke.

Eight of the new cases are in Minnehaha County and one was in Lincoln County. The state’s largest city, Sioux Falls, is in both counties. The remainder of the new cases were found in Brown County and Meade County.

Five counties in the state are now experiencing community spread, health officials said in a Wednesday email to health care providers. Community spread is a term for when officials aren’t sure how someone diagnosed with the coronavirus caught it. Those counties are: Beadle, Hughes, Lincoln, McCook and Minnehaha.

Forum News Service contacted Noem’s office with several questions about the new confirmed cases and spread of the coronavirus in the state. There was no response by deadline.

In Sioux Falls on Wednesday, Mayor Paul TenHaken said he would ask the city Board of Health to propose restrictions on having 10 or more patrons in many types of businesses, including restaurants, bars and clubs, for at least the next two weeks.

He would also ask that the order be made enforceable as a Class 2 misdemeanor, he said. The maximum penalty for a Class 2 misdemeanor is a $500 fine and a 30-day jail term. Violating the order could put restaurants and bars in jeopardy of losing their license to operate, so “there’s teeth to it,” TenHaken said.

The Sioux Falls City Council could potentially implement the move in a vote Thursday afternoon. If approved, the order would go into effect immediately.

Asked about Noem’s speech earlier in the day, TenHaken said said he had sympathy and empathy for the governor.

“She didn’t sign up for this, I didn’t sign up for this, but these are also defining moments where the community is looking to us to lead, and I’m trying to lead to the best of my abilities within the city of Sioux Falls,” he said.

Sanford Health and Avera Health, both Sioux Falls-based health systems, said earlier this week they could now process about 600 coronavirus tests a day in-house, providing a significant boost to the limited capacity at the state public health lab. It’s not yet clear if the abrupt rise in the number of processed tests led to the surge in discovered coronavirus cases in the state, specifically the Sioux Falls area.