SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Mayors from South Dakota’s largest cities told lawmakers Monday that Gov. Kristi Noem’s resistance to ordering a statewide business shutdown has left them struggling to take action to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Legislators convened through a conference call to consider a series of emergency bills, hearing from mayors on a measure that would allow cities and counties to declare a public health emergency and move quickly to shut down businesses.
As the governor’s staff explained the bills, Noem’s strategy for the coronavirus crisis became more clear: Try to keep businesses open and only step in if things get so bad that the state Secretary of Health needs to declare a public health emergency.
Matt McCaulley, a lawyer who advises Noem, said that shutting down nonessential businesses would not stop the spread of the coronavirus, but would result in continued layoffs.
The governor has said the state could be battling COVID-19 for months and wants communities to find ways to keep businesses open.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken told legislators he has had mayors across the state reach out to him to ask what they should do. He said mayors have been “hamstrung” by the lack of action from Noem.
TenHaken has said that ordering businesses to close could open the cities up to lawsuits in the absence of clear state law. Some cities have not waited for permission, instead closing bars, restaurants and retail stores.
Health officials reported on Monday they have confirmed 101 cases of COVID-19, more than doubling the number of cases since Thursday. So far, 34 people in South Dakota have recovered after contracting the coronavirus, while one has died.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Legislators were originally scheduled to meet Monday to consider vetoes from the governor, but spent the bulk of their time considering the emergency bills. The proposals cover a range of issues, including pushing local elections back until at least June, waiving requirements on schools for in-person instruction and creating a fund of about $11 million for loans to small businesses affected by the pandemic.
All the bills could be put into effect immediately if they get a two-thirds majority vote. They all have a sunset clause to expire later in the year.
The remote meetings of the House and Senate were peppered with technological hiccups as lawmakers struggled to navigate the make-do system. Others forgot to turn off their microphones, sharing comments they intended to be private.
Lawmakers said they planned to meet into the night to take action on the bills.