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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem remains among a handful of governors who have not issued statewide stay-at-home orders as most of her state's coronavirus cases are clustered around a Smithfield pork processing center in the state's biggest city, Sioux Falls.
Noem has extended her state's emergency declaration until May 31, closing schools and encouraging telework, and resists a one-size-fits-all approach. The state has reported six deaths out of 988 cases, and the governor has directed via executive order that adults over 65 in the state's hot zone to stay home.
“From Day 1, we’ve based our decisions on the science, facts, and data of the situation on the ground in South Dakota," Noem told FOX Business in a statement. "Smithfield is a critical infrastructure industry in our nation’s food supply, and we are committed to working with them to get through this.”
The state's mitigation efforts have flattened the curve and pushed back the state's peak in hospitalizations from April to June, according to projections cited by the governor's office.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken has asked Noem to issue a shelter-in-place order for the state's two hardest-hit counties, which report a combined total of more than 800 cases. The South Dakota State Medical Association (SDSMA) has asked the governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order since before she asked Smithfield to temporarily close its plant this weekend.
Smithfield Foods said Sunday that it would indefinitely close the pork processing plant in Sioux Falls after hundreds of employees tested positive for coronavirus. The employees, deemed essential for their role in the food supply chain, would have still been allowed to work under a stay-at-home order like SDSMA called for.
SDSMA president Dr. Robert Summerer told FOX Business that not issuing a statewide order "leaves wide gaps ... so a blanket statement from the governor throughout the state could make everybody follow under the same rules."
"We’re in a rural state, and all the rural communities are bracing for the spread from the larger communities down to the smaller communities because there is still travel," Summerer said.
Governors in states like Arkansas and North Dakota have not issued such statewide orders either. Others who have, like North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have found themselves accused of overreach and arbitrary business closures by unhappy residents.
Only 5 percent of South Dakotans who tested positive for the virus were ever hospitalized, according to the state's tally.
"All we can do is tell people go home, quarantine themselves," Summerer said. "We’re hoping that in this particular hotspot, where for several people English is not their first language, we're hoping they are understanding the message there."
Minnehaha County, home to the Smithfield plant, has reported 768 coronavirus cases, and nearby Lincoln County has reported 55. TenHaken wants Noem to use her powers as governor to immediately put the counties under a shelter-in-place order because he says it would take more time to issue a similar order on the municipal level, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.
"We believe a county-targeted approach by the state will be more effective than just city-enacted mitigation efforts," TenHaken said. "The virus doesn’t respect city-limit boundaries, so we need a regional approach to slow the spread."
South Dakota will be the first state to test hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus in a statewide clinical trial, Noem announced Monday after the state's numbers of cases jumped.