- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Aug. 8, 2016

West Nile is still a health threat

While the Zika virus has become a major topic in the national conversation, the West Nile virus has not gone away at all - and in fact, is seeing a disturbingly busy year in South Dakota.

There was a time when West Nile was what everyone was talking about in this region. When the insect-borne virus, which was first detected in the U.S. in 1999, arrived in this area in 2002, the drumbeat of warnings was constant. Communities mobilized to deal with the threat, and precaution was the watchword on everyone’s lips.

In the years since, however, we have come to take West Nile for granted, even though the threat is still with us.

That’s especially true this year. The Press & Dakotan reported Saturday that South Dakota is seeing more West Nile cases so far in 2016 than it has in years. As of the end of last week, 26 cases had been reported in the state, compared to a baseline norm of 17. And since we have now entered the peak season for West Nile, the number of cases will almost certainly rise. Meanwhile, Nebraska has reported just eight cases so far; last year, the state recorded 68 cases with two deaths.

In a way, this is slightly surprising since state officials have used the Zika threat to promote practices that also targeted West Nile insects. In a way, it’s been a Trojan Horse approach. The Zika virus is carried primarily by tropical mosquitoes that cannot survive in this climate. (The real threat to local residents is if they travel to a place where the Zika virus is prevalent.) Nevertheless, state officials addressed the Zika situation by putting out warnings and even instituting programs to get rid of old tires and drain standing water, which are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes in general.

But, these efforts have not prevented a spike in cases this year. State Epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger said that the number of cases in South Dakota could be in the 100-200 range, which would far exceed the annual baseline median of 57 cases.

While Zika can have dreadful repercussions for pregnant women and their unborn children, West Nile is the bigger threat to humans in general. Since the virus arrived in this country, more than 1,700 people have died from the disease. (On the plus side, it should be noted that the odds of contracting West Nile if bitten by an infected mosquito are actually quite small. But the threat is still there.)

Kightlinger cites complacency as part of the reason for the rise in West Nile this year, and that has prompted this virus to fade to the back of our minds.

However, the West Nile virus “is still here,” he said. “It’s here every summer in South Dakota. It’s still making people sick, it’s still putting people in the hospital, and it’s still killing people, so it’s still a danger.”

So, all the warnings and precautions that were drummed into you when West Nile was fresh news - all the proactive practices about using repellant, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and draining away standing water - are as relevant and as pressing as ever. It’s still a threat, until the first hard freeze hits. Be on your guard. Be careful.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Aug. 10, 2016

Amber Alert shows how efficiently system can work

We don’t know this for certain, but it’s possible that two lives were saved Monday night.

And we need to thank the Amber Alert system for that.

On Monday night, a mass Wireless Emergency Alert was sent out to specific areas in South Dakota to notify citizens that a suspect who authorities were seeking was in the area. The alert explained a man from Washington was on the run with his two children, one of whom had a severe medical condition.

Within 10 minutes of the alert going out, the man was located driving on Interstate 90 near Kimball, where law enforcement later arrested and charged him with abuse of or cruelty to a minor.

The process worked exactly as it was designed.

Three tipsters called in the location of the suspect, authorities located the person of interest, and the children were safe.

Hundreds of Amber Alerts have been utilized since the program’s inception in 1996, and typically we don’t hear about them in South Dakota. That’s obviously good news, as South Dakota has seen only six Amber Alerts since 2003. But it was also refreshing for us to see an Amber Alert be successful just 50 miles west of Mitchell.

The program in itself is wonderful. Each state has at least one Amber Alert representative who works with law enforcement to ensure an alert is necessary.

Then, when specific criteria is met, such as ensuring there is a threat to children, a secondary agency sends out information to local media to distribute to its readers and viewers.

Through the Wireless Emergency Alert and allowing media outlets to distribute the information, thousands of people can be looking for one person.

We realize the system isn’t flawless, as children who are listed on Amber Alert sadly die each year.

But, as Monday showed, children are saved directly because of Amber Alert and the Wireless Emergency Alerts. And we’re thankful each time the system works.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Aug. 11, 2016

Charge should send message to gun owners

It was like a scene from the gold rush days of the Northern Hills.

Two men are seen dashing out of a general store in the dark of night. A third man who happens upon them makes a snap decision. He draws his pistol, aims and fires - twice - and then gets ready to move on with perhaps a degree of self-satisfaction.

But this isn’t 1876 in Deadwood; the men were leaving a convenience store in a busy part of Rapid City; and we have a large police force that is only a 911 call away.

The alleged shooter is now a wanted man, facing a criminal charge for reckless discharge of a firearm, which carries a potential penalty of a year in county jail and a $2,000 fine.

The Rapid City Police Department announced Tuesday that it was seeking an arrest warrant for 22-year-old Austin Hier of Rapid City. According to the department, the suspect was never threatened by the men he shot at, did not see either man with a weapon, nor had any knowledge of what happened before he decided to become judge, jury and potentially executioner.

The police department also made it clear in the press release when it is permissible to make what should be the difficult decision to shoot at another person.

“The safe operation of a firearm starts with the responsibility of the person carrying it,” Captain James Johns said in the release. “If you point a weapon at somebody and fire it, you need to be able to clearly illustrate why that person presented a threat to you or somebody else.”

We are living in a time when more and more Americans are purchasing handguns and assault rifles. Many say they are doing this to protect themselves, their families and their property, all legitimate reasons for law-abiding residents to own a firearm.

In this case, however, police say the suspect strayed far away from what state law allows. If what they allege is true, the suspect surely did as the days of vigilante justice are now far behind us.

He was fortunate in one respect - the unarmed men had robbed the convenience store. But that doesn’t mitigate his actions. He made what could have been a deadly decision without knowing the facts or taking into consideration the threat he posed to others in his Wild West moment.

What if an errant bullet had struck an innocent person or child, or ignited a gasoline pump that caused an inferno in the neighborhood? The fact that his bullets didn’t harm anyone or any property doesn’t lessen the crime.

The police department needs to be commended for seeking charges that should send a message to every gun owner in this community - with gun ownership comes many responsibilities. Even if you’re carrying a gun for all the right reasons, you need to know when to use it as well as how to use it. For that reason, we urge all gun owners to take safety classes and the time to truly understand the law.

Even though the Second Amendment guarantees a law-abiding citizen the right to bear arms, it won’t keep you from going to prison if you shoot and kill someone for the wrong reason.

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