South Dakota dangers

My friends are delivering firewood today and I won’t be going with them. I haven’t missed many firewood deliveries over the past few years, but there have been a few. Each time volunteers step up and make sure that the wood gets delivered to those who need it. Things are a bit different for the volunteers this year. There are checkpoints on the roads leading to tribal areas in our state. Permits are required for some travelers, even if they are arriving from South Dakota. Our volunteers have prior authorization and will stay together so that those at the checkpoints will know that they will be going to an isolated rural location and will not be in close contact with those living on the reservation. They may have to adjust their usual travel pattern so that they can get fuel and use restrooms off of the reservation. I’ll be thinking about them and their travels all day.

We grew up in Montana, where winter conditions can make travel difficult. We are used to having extra jackets on every trip and survival gear in our vehicles during the winter. I know how to use tire chains and carry them. Over the years I’ve driven on a lot of slippery and snow-packed roads, but I also know how to use the road reports to determine when it is best to stop driving and wait out the weather. I am familiar with the online resources and ways to check road conditions before heading out. Knowing that we have a 1,200 mile trip ahead of us, I’ve been checking the forecasts and planning our travel.

There is, however, another map of which we need to be aware as we plan our journey. We will be traveling in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington. Traveling during the pandemic means that we need to be aware of pandemic-specific restrictions on travel. There are at least 17 states that have travel restrictions that specifically name travelers from South Dakota. Restrictions include quarantines and covid-19 tests pithing a specific amount of time. So far we are able to travel without required quarantine along our proposed route. The only travel restriction in our intended states of travel are reservations and the city of Boise, both of which can be avoided by simply not stopping as we travel across reservation land and crossing Idaho north of the city of Boise. But the map is constantly changing and new restrictions are being added, so we have to be aware of it as we plan our trip.

Like it or not, South Dakota is a coronavirus hot spot. Second only to North Dakota with the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, our health care systems are in crisis due to short staffing and the numbers of new diagnoses, people severely ill and those dying continue to increase. In addition to those very real statistics, our state already had a reputation as being a coronavirus super spreader. A lot of that has to do with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. While events across the nation were cancelled our of concerns for safety, the rally went ahead.

Infectious disease experts warned that cramming thousands of bikers into the Black Hills was not a good idea during a pandemic. But organizers and officials decided that the bikers were going to come no matter what. 460,000 bikers converged on Sturgis in what has become the Woodstock of coronavirus defiance. Some called the rally a declaration of freedom and went home with T-shirts declaring, “Screw Covid I Went to Sturgis.” But others now admit it recklessly helped seed a new wave of cases raging out of control in the state. Family members who stayed away are angry at relatives who attended and brought the virus home. Sturgis council members who approved the rally have been bombarded with death threats. And health experts and politicians are still fighting over how many cases Sturgis may have caused across the country. Cases related to the rally have spread as far away as New Hampshire and have been reported in more than 20 states. At least 300 cases of the infection have been directly related to the rally including family members and co workers of those who attended.

We have a reputation. And it has been enhanced by our governor, who went on national television to declare that South Dakota is handling the virus, “flattening the curve,” and welcoming visitors. She has consistently refused to provide leadership in the area of prevention of the spread, including publicly questioning the effectiveness of masks, even going so far as to appear without a mask at a ceremony marking the expansion of a 3-M plant in Aberdeen. The plant is working 24/7 to produce masks to help fight the pandemic.

The map of places that specifically name South Dakota in their travel restrictions includes a lot of places where our governor has traveled in recent weeks as those who remain at home long for leadership to help mitigate the spread of the disease. Lacking leadership from the governor’s office, South Dakota organizations have gone ahead with a campaign to promote safe practices.

Behind a simple message of “Mask Up South Dakota” and a hash tag of #MaskUpSoDak, these organizations include the South Dakota State Medical Association (SDSMA), Monument Health based in Rapid City, Avera Health and Sanford Health based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Nurses Association (SDNA), South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO), South Dakota Municipal League, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, Associated School Boards of South Dakota, and School Administrators of South Dakota, and the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board.

Our move takes us to an area of the country that was first to experience a covid-19 outbreak, but where the current infection rate is only about one third of that in South Dakota. With much more widespread testing than South Dakota and statewide rules on mask use and other preventive measures it seems that we are reducing our risk by moving. It is not the reason for our move, however. Our instinct is to stay with our people and share the risks that come. It is what we have always done. However, the time has come for us to move closer to family.

I’ll miss delivering firewood, however. I’ll miss my friends. And I plan to keep in touch and pay attention to what happens in their lives. Safe travels, my friends. And be careful out there!

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!