Closures, Cancellations Expand as COVID-19 Concerns Intensify

More than a week after visitors were banned from the area nursing homes, these ladies found a creative way to get to see each other. Elizabeth Conrad-Smart, a resident at Avantara Milbank, talks on the telephone with her daughters, Teresa Stoddard, left, and Julie Schwandt.

Closures, Cancellations Expand as COVID-19 Concerns Intensify


    Governor Kristi Noem said that the scientific models projecting the spread of COVID-19 in South Dakota forecasts a peak in cases in later May or near June 1. She made the announcement in a public address issued on Sunday, March 22, and went on to say that this is not a short-term issue, but that state officials expect that residents will still be dealing with the illness in July or August.
    “The actions we’ve taken as a state are working,” Noem said. “The whole goal … was to flatten the curve. We wanted to take action to make sure that we weren’t getting everybody infected and spreading the virus right away, overwhelming our healthcare systems. So the actions we’ve been taking with putting kids out of school for a couple of weeks, making sure that we were teleworking where possible, relying on people to take personal responsibility and stay home, do social distancing. Wash your hands, is incredibly important, using basic common sense principles to flatten that curve. That has been working in South Dakota.” 
    “I do want to reiterate to you that this is not something that’s going to be over in a week or two,” Noem said. “All of the modeling looks like we will peak in May, which means that the actions we are taking need to be continued for a very long time yet.” 
    Noem said, “We can take actions; buy some time to flatten that curve. We can buy some time to get our labs stood up, to get our healthcare systems ready with equipment and supplies to take care of people. We can slow that down so we can do what needs to be done in our communities.”
    If the incidence of COVID-19 peaks in May, Noem says she will continue to announce increasing numbers of positive cases in the coming weeks. “We are going to continue to take care of people and make decisions, but actually we won’t be done dealing (with it). Potentially from what we can predict ... that we will in June, July, August, still be watching this trend going through the state of South Dakota,” Noem said. 
    The length of the expected impact of COVID-19 in South Dakota is one of the reasons that Noem cited for wanting to give the businesses time to adapt, to make decisions and be creative in methods to take care of their customers and do it in a way that protects them. “We’ve seen some really great things happening in the state of South Dakota where businesses have changed their hours, they’ve given special vulnerable populations unique opportunities to use their services while keeping them safe,” Noem said. “I want to commend a lot of our communities for making special provisions to really get people their necessities – their drugstore supplies, their groceries, their necessities they need to live going on into the future. And still, stay in business and keep their employees employed, because this isn’t going to be over in two weeks.” 
    “We are expecting now for that number not to stop growing until we get to at least May, June 1, and that’s the best prediction I can give you,” Noem said. “Obviously ... we are in a new situation here where it is very difficult for people to predict what the future is. But every action that you’re taking is incredibly important.”
    The number of positive COVID-19 cases in South Dakota jumped to 28 over the weekend, with six of those showing as recovered and one resulted in death. 
    The South Dakota community that is nearest to Grant County with a single positive case is Codington County, which has Watertown as the county seat. Brown County (Aberdeen) is the next closest South Dakota case. Beadle County (Huron) leads the state with 12 positive cases; Minnehaha (Sioux Falls) has five. There is one case each in Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Hughes, Lyman and Pennington. Davison and McCook counties each have 2 cases. It has also been reported that there are cases in Big Stone County and La qui Parle County in Minnesota.
    The Centers for Disease Control  (CDC) reported on Tuesday that the total cases of COVID-19 in the United States was 33,404. The area included 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A total of 400 deaths were reported.
    Locally, the ban on visitors continues at the Milbank nursing homes. Celina Lohrer of Avantara said, “I am incredibly proud of the team at both Avantara Milbank and Wellshire Park Place. We have been working with our corporate office, Legacy Healthcare and following the CDC recommendations to ensure the safety of our residents. The team has been going above and beyond, and we appreciate all of our supportive family members through this entire process.” 
    Sr. Rosemary Bell reported that, although the visitor ban remains in place at St. Williams, the residents still need contact from family and friends. “We do encourage families to call their loved ones and, like some families have done, come and visit outside their window or off the patio. We just ask that you call the nurses station and let us know that company is coming,” she said.  
    Many local events were canceled as federal officials issued recommendations that the public avoids gathering in groups of 10 or more. They also advised that workers in non-essential industries remain at home to curtail the spread of the novel strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 
    Across the state, nursing homes and hospitals either banned visitors or began to perform a screening process before allowing entrance. Hygiene and sanitation processes were ramped up in most business settings, from manufacturing, to service, to retail.  
    Local restaurants and some retail stores began offering curbside or drive-through style pickup options for customers. Some businesses modified their operations to provide delivery services, while others have chosen to close entirely. 
    By late last week, some dental offices, eye doctors and other specialized health fields that require face to face contact chose to restrict public access, or closed entirely. Some continue to see patients and clients only on an emergency care basis. 
    The coronavirus situation has forced the cancelation of events such as all practices and contests associated with Special Olympics International, which includes the competition that was planned in Milbank on May 1. Local officials say the events will not be rescheduled as a result of the continued uncertainty in the next few months. 
    Organizers of the Grant County Historical Society have canceled the annual meeting of the organization. It previously had been postponed into April. The organization’s board of directors also determined that the best course of action is to close all of the museums in Grant County for the 2020 season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “We will review this decision in late June in the hope that the coronavirus crisis will have abated to the point whereby we can safely re-open,” commented Arlo Levisen.
    The American Legion and VFW Baseball meeting that was scheduled for March 18 was canceled with no alternate date announced as yet. Grant County 4-H announced that all 4-H activities, statewide, have been suspended at least through April 14. 
    Valley Queen Cheese Factory issued a notice last Wednesday, stating the Heritage Center was closed until further notice. “Protecting the health and safety of our employees and our community is a top priority,” said Callie Curley, communications coordinator fo the company. “We look forward to reopening when guidance from the CDC advises that it is safe and reasonable to do so.” 
    “Although the heritage center is closed, operations at the factory continue. “While we do not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among our employees, we continue to act in an abundance of caution by implementing a number of preventative measures to protect our employees and ensure the continual pickup of milk from our nearly 40 supplying dairy farms across the region,” Curley said. 
    Some of Valley Queen’s measures include:
    • Continual reinforcement of existing hygiene and sanitation procedures, including frequent handwashing and avoiding handshakes or other close contact
    • Additional cleaning of high-traffic touchpoints (employee plant entry doors, break rooms, locker room areas, restrooms, CHP areas and production doors, etc.)
    • Screening of all visitors and any employees returning from travel to identify possible contact with COVID-19 before being admitted entry
    • Restricted access to plant and offices by lock-controlling doors until visitors have been cleared for entry and preventing outside truck drivers from entering the plant
    • Transitioning employee meetings and non-essential meetings with outside vendors to be held via web conference
    • The creation of a 24-Hour COVID-19 Hotline, manned by our Executive Leadership Team, for employees to report concerns or contact with COVID-19
    • Continual monitoring and contingency planning by management
    Rick Dilts, CEO at Dakota Granite, reported that the company is still in full operation. “But like most other businesses in the area, we are taking a very cautionary approach,” he said. “We continue to monitor our employee’s health along with that of our community, and should Covid-19 dig its heals in in Grant County, we’ll make an assessment at that time whether to continue to work or not.”
    In the meantime, officials with Dakota Granite are encouraging the employees to be practicing social distancing practices. They have canceled internal meetings that don’t allow for the practice of keeping those safe distances. “We’ve limited vendors and visitors to our facility to only necessary visits, such as deliveries,” Dilts added. They’ve implemented delivery protocols that don’t involve face to face contact with the delivery service, and are doing disinfecting wipe downs numerous times per day in common areas.
    “Should someone develop the flu symptoms, they would be required to stay home for the suggested 14 days by the CDC. Again, if we see a trend in cases, we’ll make a determination as to whether to stay open at that time,” Dilts concluded.
    According to Tana Mundwiler at Mundwiler Funeral Home, their staff is taking many precautions to safeguard the health of those visiting and working at the funeral home. “Employees are carefully monitoring their own health conditions, and we are limiting non-essential travel. The facility is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized on a frequent basis,” she reported. Visitors to the funeral home are asked to implement social distancing and maintain personal hygiene. Those who are at high risk, such as a vulnerable senior or someone with underlying conditions, are asked to avoid entering the premises. All preplanning events are being postponed through April 15. Currently, all public grief care activities are canceled or postponed through March 31. 
    Visitations and funeral attendance have been limited according to the guidelines of local and state authorities and the CDC. Those with questions regarding individual service information, are encouraged to read the obituary or call the funeral home to speak with the staff. 
    “We know how difficult the restriction on gatherings might be for those who have lost a loved one, so our funeral home will be utilizing technology to connect remotely with families as well as to create opportunities for sharing support,” Mundwiler said. “We are working to provide online streaming and recording of funeral services, which will be available at no charge.”
    Look for other COVID-19-related stories in this week’s Grant County Review. 
~Holli Seehafer


Grant County Review

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Milbank, SD 57252
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