- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2020

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota health officials are planning to test everyone in nursing homes and assisted living facilities over the next month, Gov. Kristi Noem announced Thursday.

The Department of Health will be working with facilities that care for the elderly to test over 26,000 people in the coming weeks. Nursing homes have been most susceptible to deaths from COVID-19, with one Sioux Falls facility recording 20 deaths, according to the Argus Leader.

“It’s a foundation for us and our response moving forward,” said Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon.

The state has acquired more supplies needed for tests, allowing them to hold mass testing events. Health officials also plan to conduct random testing among vulnerable people to try to catch infections before they spread.

Malsam-Rysdon said the state is also planning to hold mass testing events in Native American tribal communities, starting with a mass testing event with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate next week.

Noem has feuded with two tribes over coronavirus checkpoints they set up on federal and state highways last month to keep unnecessary visitors off the reservations. On Friday, she threatened to sue the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe if they did not remove highway stops within 48 hours.

The governor backed away from that plan this week, offering to negotiate on the issue if they would take them off of U.S. and state highways. Noem said both tribes responded to letters she sent, saying they would consider the plan. But they have not taken down the checkpoints.

Still, Noem said it was encouraging they didn’t reject the plans outright. She said she hoped the conflict could be settled out of court.

“We are working through our process,” Noem said. “I’m hopeful that we can come to a resolution.”

But the Rosebud Sioux Tribe announced on Wednesday it will be setting up highway checkpoints to enforce a lock down on the reservation after 14 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, health officials recorded four more COVID-19 deaths and 60 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday.

The new figures bring the state’s death toll to 43 and its confirmed case count to 3,792. State officials said the count does not reflect the total number of infections because many people may not display symptoms or have not sought testing if their symptoms are mild.

All of the deaths reported Thursday were in Minnehaha County, the state’s most populated area. About 80% of cases in the state have come from the county.

The economic fallout from the global pandemic has also continued to cause layoffs in the state, according to the Department of Labor and Regulation. State officials reported that 5,131 people made new claims for unemployment last week. A total of 23,791 people are receiving unemployment benefits, according to the latest available count.

“About eight weeks ago, it was like a light switch was flipped,” said Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman. “Claims instantly and to a degree never-before-seen began to hit our system.”

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