State and national emergency declared over COVID-19

Gray Hughes

Editor's note: this story was filed earlier in the week before more news and community efforts regarding COVID-19 were announced.


President Donald Trump declared a national emergency while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declared a state of emergency over COVID-19, both last Friday.


On Tuesday, as the nationwide total of those infected by COVID-19 hit 4,226 cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), South Dakota has reported 11 people with the disease, including one death, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.


“The numbers continue to be encouraging here in the state of South Dakota,” Noem told reporters Monday. “While we do still expect that things could get worse before they could get better, we had just one additional person test positive over the weekend.”


Noem shared the news March 12 that a Pennington County man in the age range of 60-69 died while testing positive for the disease. Noem did say, though, that the man had underlying health issues.


Noem confirmed on Monday that COVID-19 was the cause of death.


“My heart, certainly, goes out to his family during this very difficult time,” Noem said. “And I also want to let them know we’re thinking and praying for them.”


Noem said while the man was from Pennington County, the man died in Davison County and had not been in Pennington County for the two weeks preceding his death.


Those that have the disease are at home under quarantine and are not at hospitals, Noem said. All positive cases were due to travel, she added.


Noem had a conversation Monday morning with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence along with other governors, and she said they reported grocery supply chain for food is good and there is “no need for people to be concerned about running out of supplies with our grocery store chains.”


“We are in a very good position in South Dakota and prepared for the coming days ahead,” Noem said.


Nationally, Trump said  on Monday gatherings of 10 or more people should not be held as the first trial vaccine for COVID-19 has been administered, according to the Associated Press.


The local impact


On Sunday, Victor Alexander, owner and operator of the Hill City Super 8 motel as well as a member of Hill City Ambulance, said an individual was taken from the motel by ambulance with a high fever and other symptoms that mirror COVID-19 symptoms. That individual was tested for COVID-19.


The test came back negative, and the individual had a cold that turned into pneumonia, Alexander said. Alexander urged the public to remain calm.


“It is not coronavirus until it is coronavirus,” Alexander said.

School — in both Hill City and throughout the state — has been shut down at least through next week, and events in Hill City and Keystone have either been postponed or canceled.


“At the recommendation of Gov. Noem, the Hill City School District will be closed March 16-20 for cleaning and disinfecting,” said Blake Garnder, superintendent of the Hill City School District. “Our school will consider this closure an extended spring break, as we were already scheduled to be off from school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”


The cleaning procedure will include disinfecting all surfaces including every desk, doorknob, locker and handrail with QT-TB, a product that kills COVID-19, Gardner said.


Work will start at the elementary school and will work toward the high school. Every surface will be sprayed and leave for 10 minutes, which is called a dwelling period, Gardner said.


“Next, we will spray Lysol on every surface as an extra precaution,” he added. “Additionally, we will shampoo carpets, scrub the tile floors and we are researching the benefits of an anti-bacterial fogger. Our facilities will be closed to all community members during this time.”


The plan is — as of Monday morning — to return to school on March 23. Recommendations from Sanford Health and representatives from the CDC encourage schools to be open, Gardner said, and he said his personal belief is that school is the best place for kids.


However, the school district will use the guidance and recommendations of the CDC regarding school closure.


“We encourage common sense and good hygiene,” Gardner said. “Please make sure everyone is washing their hands and cleaning their cell phones, computers and other electronic devices. When school resumes if any students or staff feel ill or immunocompromised, we strongly

encourage them to stay home. If parents feel uncomfortable sending students back to school, we encourage them to stay home. I look forward to working together as a team on this topic. Thank you for your understanding and support.”


On March 15 at Hill City City Hall, mayor Kathy Skorzewski met with community leaders to address how the city should handle the situation caused by COVID-19.


“Our main focus is those who are susceptible to the disease,” Skorzewski said before Monday’s Hill City Planning and Zoning meeting.


At the city office, Skorzewski said staff is looking at their procedures to keep the public safe while conducting business, as city hall will remain open. The city will utilize technology to make meetings virtual.


A big advantage for Hill City, Skorzewski said, is that it is a small community that is geographically isolated.


“We want to serve those in our community and look to see how we can isolate the risk for those who are at risk,” Skorzewski said. “People don’t need to stop living their lives, but they do need to be smart. We will get through this. We are Hill City strong.”


Skorzewski urged those who are making city payments such as depositing water bills to use the city drop box rather than coming to the city office.


Hill City is a small community that has good community leadership, she added. The city and those in the city are being proactive, not reactive.


“We are making our decisions based on reliable sources such as the CDC, federal, state and local governments,” she added.


The state basketball tournament — where the Hill City Rangers girls team was scheduled to play — has been postponed to a later date. The Pinewood Derby scheduled for this past Sunday was postponed until April 5 and the Hill City schools science fair was postponed.


The annual Hill City Antique and Railroad Sale and Evaluation Days on March 21-22 has been canceled. All Hill City Arts Council Open Stage events have been postponed “for the foreseeable future,” according to a Facebook post by the arts council.


The Hill City Public Library plans to remain open; however, Imagination Club held on Thursday and Storytime on Friday will not be held, and the library will be closed March 21.


The Boys and Girls Club in Hill City suspended operations for the week. The Hill City Evergreen Garden Club seminar for March 25 has been canceled.


The Hill City Easter egg hunt scheduled for April 4 has been canceled and the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and award celebration has been postponed until October.


Hill City Senior Center has suspended operations through March.


“You are all aware of the current global pandemic with the coronavirus, and after careful consideration of the latest information from the CDC and with the foremost safety of our members in mind, we will be suspending all further activities at the Hill City Senior Center until the end of March,” said Dale Householder, president of the Hill City Senior Center.


Householder stressed that this is a storm that will pass and the senior center will continue to monitor what health officials are saying and make decisions on when to reopen the senior center when it is once again safe for its members.


Health officials are saying the best way to reduce the potential spread of the virus — as well as influenza and cold viruses — is to limit public contact as much as possible, Householder said.


“Although the center will be closed, the office will remain open and we will be taking phone calls,” he said. “So going forward we encourage our members to call…us if you have any needs such as having groceries, medicine or other supplies picked up and we will make arrangements to have that done for you.”


The Keystone Senior Center is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by suspending its Friday lunches.


“Unfortunately, we decided to suspend lunch services until we could get a better handle on what’s going on in and around our area,” said Jon Veltman, Keystone Senior Center board president, “Our members are obviously mostly seniors and we didn’t want to take any chances with anybody getting sick.”


Veltman consulted with several experts before making this difficult decision, saying that he erred on the side of caution in the interest of keeping people safe.


The food pantry, however, will stay open.  


The Town of Keystone itself is conducting business as usual, but that may change after the March 18 town board meeting.


The agenda, posted online, shows that the town will look at its sick leave policy in reference to COVID 19. The community gym in Keystone has been closed for the week, and the Keystone Library will only be open March 20-21 from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.


Work being done

in the community


While both school and the Boys and Girls Club are shut down for the week and possibly longer, the Boys and Girls Club in Hill City is ensuring kids are fed.


Sack lunches are being provided by the club from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The meals are available to all students, not just members of the club.


“We have sack lunches including things kids can be made at home,” said Roni Prautzsch, unit director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Black Hills in Hill City. “There are also things like peanut butter and jelly and other things kids can eat like chips and granola bars.”


While no lunches will be available Friday, Prautzsch said that two lunches could be picked up on Thursday to supplement the Friday meal.


Members of the Hill City Fire Department prepared the meals. As soon as the school announced it was closing this week, the members of the fire department called over to the club to see what they could do to help.


Everyone jumped into action as soon as it was announced action was needed, Prautzsch said.


The move to provide meals was a “no brainer,” Prautzsch said.


“We had a meeting before the schools were closed,” she said. “We knew (schools closing) would be a matter of when, not if.”


Householder, who is also helps run the Hill City Food Pantry based out of the Little White Church, said the food pantry will remain open.


Anyone who comes to the food pantry, though, will need to wear gloves. That includes those who are volunteering at the food pantry and those who are taking food items from the food pantry.


“If (COVID-19) becomes a problem in Hill City, food orders will need to be called in,” Householder said. “If they can come in we will meet them in the parking lot. If they can’t we will work to deliver the food.”


At Krull’s Market, Eric Lind, president, said they are ready to serve their customers.


Trucks and the deliveries the trucks have been bringing to the store have been larger, he said, and they are trying to be proactive so that they do not run out of critical items.


As of Monday, the only goods not readily available at Krull’s Market were some cleaning supplies and paper products, he added.


While the store is open, the store is being cleaned with bleach products.


“Hand sanitizer and wipes are at our cash registers,” Lind said. “We have plenty of that, and we are having our cashiers wipe down their areas frequently.”


In the two years Lind and his wife, Danielle, have been in charge of the store, they have seen nothing like this, but the store has dealt with shortages of supplies before.


The store, he said, will remain open.


“We are going to be as open as possible,” he said.


And for those who are at risk of getting COVID-19, work is being done to ensure they have food.


Working with Krull’s Market, churches in Hill City are working to deliver food to those populations who may not have someone able to do that for them.


“I’m glad to be doing something proactive,” said pastor Jeremy Duprey of the Community Lutheran Church in Hill City.


Volunteers form the community and local churches will pick up food from Krull’s Market and deliver to houses between 11 a.m. and noon. Orders can be placed Monday through Friday and will be delivered Tuesday through Saturday.


Orders that are placed will be received the next day. Orders may be faxed to 574-4833 or emailed to Krull’s Market at Include your name, phone number, address, list of grocery items with preferred and potential substitute items, method of payment and any special circumstances for delivery. It is asked that those who place orders do so with food that will last them for several days.


To get involved as a food delivery person, contact Duprey at 406-930-2835 or by emailing him at jeremy


“We want to be active in the ways that we can,” he said.


Hill City Prevailer News reporter Leslie Silverman contributed to this report.


Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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