- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2020

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - While South Dakota reported one of the highest daily tallies for new cases since the beginning of the pandemic on Friday, state lawmakers discussed the economic fallout of the pandemic and suggestions on using federal funds to mitigate it.

The Department of Health reported 389 people who tested positive for COVID-19 along with five deaths. Thursday also brought a near record high for new cases reported in a day with 395. The daily tally has topped 400 only once, on Aug. 29.

The state has seen a surge in new cases in recent weeks, resulting in outbreaks at a women’s minimum-security and prompting high schools to cancel classes and activities. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have also been on the rise. State lawmakers were also casting about for ways to address the economic impacts of the pandemic, hosting public input sessions and discussing ways to spend the bulk of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by roughly 42, a drop of about 14%. But the state also ranked second in the country for new cases per capita during that time.

The seven-day average positivity testing rate is also just over 15%, which is an indicator that more cases are spreading in the community.

Classes at Pierre’s T.F. Riggs High School were canceled Friday after about 150 students were instructed to quarantine after possibly being exposed to people with the virus. School activities like sports, homecoming and arts events have also been delayed.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers appeared to draw closer to giving their OK to a plan to make $400 million available to businesses affected by the pandemic.

The state government so far has spent roughly $114 million of the $1.25 billion it received in the spring from the federal government. The rest must be spent by Dec. 30, the current deadline set by Congress.

Gov. Kristi Noem had proposed grants of up to $100,000 for businesses that can demonstrate a 25% budget reduction between March and May as a result of COVID-19. A committee of lawmakers responsible for crafting the state budget has offered its suggestions to the plan, which would make businesses with annual revenues as little as $25,000 eligible.

Noem’s administration has taken the stance that it is allowed to spend the federal funds without the Legislature’s approval. But lawmakers have held a series of public input sessions this week to discuss how the money can be used and at least offer their input to the governor’s office.

Some lawmakers have also pushed for a special session to be called this year, but it does not appear they currently have the necessary support to do that. A special session requires support by two-thirds of both the House or Senate. The governor can also call legislators back into official meetings in Pierre.

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