Apr 17, 2020

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem COVID-19 Briefing April 17

South Dakota Governor Briefing April 17
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsSouth Dakota Governor Kristi Noem COVID-19 Briefing April 17

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem held a press conference on coronavirus on April 17. Noem says South Dakota will reopen with a different framework than President Trump recommends. Read the full transcript here.


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Kristi Noem: (00:10)
Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us. Today I’m joined by Kim Malsam-Rysdon who is our secretary of health. She’ll be available to help answer questions at the end of the opening statement that I’m going to give you on a few details.

Kristi Noem: (00:24)
I wanted to give you a quick update on Smithfield. The CDC team did go through the plant yesterday. I listened in on a conference call. They had their first initial report of their walkthrough. They’re communicating with Smithfield officials as well and will complete their final assessment and generate a report for us over the weekend that we will look at early next week. They gave us some recommendations. I know that many of the proactive measures that they had thought of before they were on the ground Smithfield was already doing.

Kristi Noem: (00:57)
That was encouraging to see that the proactive actions of Smithfield that were recognized as responsible and something that would be very helpful into the future. They’re going to continue to enforce and put in place some infection control training, make sure that they have the protective personal equipment that they need in order to ensure that the employees are ready to get back to work when it’s time. We’ll look forward to releasing that report to you at the beginning of next week.

Kristi Noem: (01:25)
In the coming days, we’ll be working as well with them to develop a series of measures that the plant can take in order to safely reopen. This work will involve the CDC, the US Food and Drug Administration, the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the South Dakota Department of Health and the city of Sioux Falls. Yesterday I was also on a phone call with President Trump and the other governors of the United States. He lays out in that phone call and also on a release that his administration has already given to the United States a framework for how to reopen the country for the benefit of the economy.

Kristi Noem: (02:03)
In South Dakota it looks different how we implement that because we took a different path. We did not mandate that our businesses would close. We gave them the opportunity to be innovative, to take care of their customers while they protected their employees going through the spread of this virus. Now we trusted the people of South Dakota to take personal responsibility for those actions and they overperformed in a really big way. In fact, just by the mitigation efforts that South Dakotans took, we have bent our curve by 75%. We have had a 75% reduction in our projections, which was absolutely outstanding. I’m so thankful and grateful for everyone’s efforts in making sure they were following the guidelines.

Kristi Noem: (02:47)
Remember, I need you to maintain those guidelines for several more weeks in order to stay on course for the plan that we laid out with our healthcare systems and the Department of Health to help us get through this situation and have the capacity we need to take care of everybody. That includes making sure that you are not in a group of over 10 people, that you social distance from people, you stay at least six feet away from individuals when you are out and about. That you stay home at whenever it is possible, only go out for essential trips. That you make sure you’re using good hygiene, washing your hands with soap and water. Then if you are not feeling well, to make sure you reach out to your doctor. Call them, do not go into the clinic. Do not go into the hospital or the emergency room. Call your doctor and they will walk through the protocols on what you should do.

Kristi Noem: (03:35)
I do want to remind you to download the Care19 app. That’s incredibly helpful for our team. If you would do that and turn on the location services so that it can do contact tracing and help our team be much more efficient in taking care of people here. I want to end with just thanking a few folks because every day we see the actions of people that are stepping up and going above and beyond that’s making a world of difference for everybody in our state.

Kristi Noem: (03:59)
First of all, to our teachers. We have stretched our teachers to new levels asking them to deliver everything that they do every single day in a classroom long distance. We have many teachers that have figured out new ways to use technology in remote areas. They’ve done individualized lesson plans for kiddos that need IEPs or special kinds of accommodations made for their learning processes. We have teachers that are going above and beyond to communicate with their classes and thinking of ways to make it fun for their kids and their students that are at home and often bored and looking for an opportunity to stay busy. I want to thank our parents as well because many of them are learning how to be teachers. They’re doing their work remotely in a difficult situation. There’s also taking the time to educate their kids and make sure that they don’t fall behind.

Kristi Noem: (04:49)
Our healthcare professionals are on the front line. What they do and sacrifice each and every day I hope you all recognize and take the opportunity to thank them when you work with them, when you run across them. Even if you’re related to them, just give them a few words of encouragement that we can get through this and that we do appreciate what they do to keep us safe. We also have a lot of healthcare professionals in the state of South Dakota that aren’t working because we can’t spare the protective equipment for them to do the elective work that they do. I’m talking about optometrists or chiropractors or even massage therapists or dentists. A lot of these folks through no fault of their own had to shut down their businesses and quit doing their normal appointments so that we could save some of the supplies that we might need to deal with the virus. I want to thank them for making those sacrifices.

Kristi Noem: (05:40)
We have community support providers. These are a lot of folks that work with our vulnerable population. They work with people that need special care in our nursing homes and making sure that they’re well taken care of. They’re taking extra steps each and every day that a lot of us don’t have to make that vulnerable population can stay healthy. Our police, our first responders, correctional officers, they’re all keeping our state safe. We haven’t seen the kind of unrest or lawlessness that some states have experienced and that’s because our police officers, correctional officers, all those folks showed up every single day and did their jobs and didn’t even think once about protecting themselves and staying home throughout this incident.

Kristi Noem: (06:26)
Our small businesses are innovating, they’re being creative. We’ve been taking notes in all of our agencies and our employees on the unique things that they’re doing that I think we’ll learn long term about ways that we can be more efficient in the future and ways that we can change our business models to help our folks survive.

Kristi Noem: (06:44)
Our economic development team has been working overtime to get help out to these small businesses. I want to thank them for continuously taking those phone calls from hundreds and hundreds of business owners who are at many times literally in tears because they see the work of their lifetime drifting away from them in these few short months. Our Department of Labor employees who have had unprecedented applications they’ve had to deal with for people who are signing up for reemployment and unemployment benefits that are at levels that the state has never seen before, hundreds of times of increases from our most historical levels in the past.

Kristi Noem: (07:23)
We have an Emergency Operations Center which is always manned with individuals from agencies and departments that have stepped up and committed and put in more and more time. That Emergency Operations Center is the first line of organizational attack on how we get people out to help meet the needs of every single community in this state. The folks that are there and doing that are professionals. They’re trained in it. They know the federal programs. They know how to make it work here on the ground in South Dakota. I’m so impressed by their professionalism and their steadfast work each and every day.

Kristi Noem: (07:58)
Our Department of Health, boy, these folks are just experts. Experts at not just knowing the science and the data, but working with people and caring for not just their bodies, but also their minds, their hearts and their spirits as they go through this situation. It’s not every day that we have a pandemic that we have to deal with or that our Department of Health has to deal with. They have done it in a manner of which I’m very proud and humbled by the actions they take each day to care for people and put public health first.

Kristi Noem: (08:29)
Our Department of Social Services is being asked to do a lot more than they typically have to. Social Services deals with helping to build strong families, ensuring benefits like food and also making sure that mental health is doing well across the state. If you can imagine with all of this time spent at home isolated from people, feeling disconnected from the world, struggling to put food on the table, a roof over people’s heads and also situations where finances are going away, the Department of Social Services has been asked to do more and more to try to bring stability in a very unstable time.

Kristi Noem: (09:11)
All of our state employees, I’ve asked you to completely change your lives and your daily routines. You haven’t complained once. So many of you are volunteering and stepping up and answering calls, detailed out to different agencies to lend a hand where it’s possible. I’m just humbled by your work, by your heart for people. You all truly are public servants.

Kristi Noem: (09:36)
The people of South Dakota, the nation is watching you. They’re seeing how you’re responding. They’re impressed. They’re impressed with the fact that you understand what we’re facing and it doesn’t daunt you. That each day you wake up strong, ready to make good decisions for you and your family and you’re taking personal responsibility for keeping them safe. I want to thank you for that. I want to thank you for having some grace as you approach each other, encouraging each other throughout this, giving people a reason to smile because this is a special place. It’s why people live here is because of the people that we do have. It’s why I love the state of South Dakota. With that, we will open it up for any questions that you may have.

Bob: (10:20)

Kristi Noem: (10:20)

Bob: (10:22)
I’m not good at math.

Kristi Noem: (10:25)
Me either, Bob.

Bob: (10:26)
Yeah. I don’t know who wants to take this, but can you explain to South Dakota what you’re referring to when you say you flattened the curve by 75%? Have you spread out the numbers or are there fewer numbers? Talk us through that.

Kristi Noem: (10:46)
Sure. Bob is asking us what we mean. First of all, he admitted he’s not great at math. Me either. That’s good. Bob and I can relate on that issue. Then he asked what we mean when we say we flattened the curve by 75%. I’ll let Kim visit about that and give you the specifics as to how we document that based on our previous projections.

Kim: (11:10)
Again, one of our key activities as we’re dealing with this COVID response is to make sure that we’re going to have enough hospital capacity in the state to take care of folks if they become ill. If you remember, we’ve shown you some charts that indicated had we done nothing in our state, we would have needed 10,000 hospital beds really at this time of the year, mid-April was that original projection. The Governor took action, people listened. They’re doing what they need to do to help flatten that curve. Then our next projection was to lower the number of hospital beds that we felt we would need push that peak out later to mid-June. At that point, we would need 5,000 beds. This week the latest projection is that we will need 2,500 hospital beds at our peak. We’re still estimating that to be in the mid-June timeframe. But we’ve gone from a need of 10,000 beds in the middle of April to 2,500 beds in the middle of June.

Kim: (12:12)
Now I just want to reiterate, we’re still planning as if the worst case scenario of needing 5,000 beds is what we will experience. We would rather overprepare and not need that many beds, but what we’re doing is working. I can’t reiterate with the Governor said, thank you to South Dakotans for doing the right thing. It’s inconvenient. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s really, really helping us.

Bob: (12:38)
Just to follow up, you have not reduced the percentage of people by 75%, I mean, who are going to be infected. That range as you said is anywhere from 30% to 70%.

Kim: (12:53)
That’s correct, Bob. It’s not a reduction in the number of people who might experience COVID. It’s a reduction in the number of people who will get seriously ill and require hospitalization. That’s coming to us from some data points from other states and other places that have already experienced COVID as well as the data that we’re seeing in South Dakota.

Bob: (13:13)
Thank you.

Kristi Noem: (13:17)
But, one thing I would follow upon that, Bob, is that we, at this point in time, our original projections showed that we would have had many, many more positive cases in the state by this time. What South Dakotans have done has slowed down that spread. We do have less people infected today than we would’ve thought. We don’t really know what that means for the future, but we do know that all the models from across the nation and across the world show that we can still expect to see significant amount of infections.

Kristi Noem: (13:49)
Our goal the whole time and all of our planning purposes were focused on being prepared from a hospitalization standpoint, from a healthcare standpoint. We went from originally thinking we’d need 10,000 COVID-19 beds in the state, which would have overwhelmed us and we wouldn’t have been able to facilitate, to now because of the actions South Dakotans have taken, to needing 2,500 beds, which we can do. We have a question here in the room.

Speaker 4: (14:16)
Yes, Governor. How much of the curve was bent by behavior changes versus how much was changed by new data models and information of the virus?

Kristi Noem: (14:24)
I would say it was a combination. I can let Kim give you more details, but the behaviors significantly impacted the change in the curve. But every day we get more data. It helps firm up what we’re seeing. It helps firm up our projections for the future because there is trends and by who’s exposed to the virus and gets infected. Obviously when Smithfield became a hotspot, that accelerated the timeframe for the Sioux Falls area. They’re going see their hotspot, they’re going to see their peak sooner than the rest of the state. That definitely had a factor. Do you have more to add?

Kim: (14:59)
I would just add one thing. That is we’ve really had to work hard to get testing out into communities. As we’ve seen our testing capacity increase across the state, that has really helped us identify people quicker, help them isolate and stop that spread. I would add that’s been a particular behavior and a response that’s helped us.

Kristi Noem: (15:25)
Was there a question on the phone?

Vicki Wood: (15:33)
Yeah, Vicki Wood from CNN. Have people in the state been talking to you about the frustrations of sort of not opening up sooner, whether it comes from an economic …

Kristi Noem: (15:53)
I think the question was if people were talking to us about the frustration of the economy not opening up sooner. I would say that in South Dakota we’ve had a little bit of a different approach to where we didn’t mandate that businesses closed. I think that has relieved some of the frustration because our businesses were allowed to be innovative and change their practices to make sure they could stay open and still serve their customers. But they definitely want things to go back to normal.

Kristi Noem: (16:23)
Back when the President first advised that everybody stay home for 15 days, we dramatically saw people in South Dakota take his advice and stay home. We saw a huge impact on our state economy and each of our businesses here. People are feeling the financial pressure. They want to get back to normal. They want to try to get their customers taken care of and to start cash flowing and take care of their families.

Kristi Noem: (16:49)
From the framework that the President put out yesterday, it was interesting to me because in South Dakota, we were already at his phase one for reopening the economy. That means we’re already in a better position than most of the other states because we’re already doing the things that he advises we do right away to open up. We’re in a better position because of that. I believe South Dakota and our economy will bounce back quicker because we were taking solid measures to be innovative yet put in mitigation measures to slow down the spread.

Bob: (17:24)

Megan Murat: (17:25)
Governor, Megan Murat, NewsCenter1.

Kristi Noem: (17:26)
I’m going to go to Megan. Then I’ll go to Bob here in the room.

Megan Murat: (17:30)
Thank you. In your executive order yesterday, you relaxed a number of statues and provisions for a number of industries in the state. When this is all over with, how does the state plan to regulate all of those industries and ensure compliance again?

Kristi Noem: (17:43)
The executive order will expire and all of that will go back to what statute dictates. This was something we did to relax some of those regulations to allow our businesses and our professionals that required those certifications some ability to be nimble, to stay home and not have to come in and fill out the paperwork and have the financial burden of complying. But when the executive order expires, everything will go back to as statute guides us to.

Megan Murat: (18:12)
But how will that be regulated and checked up on to make sure that those are being adhered with?

Kristi Noem: (18:18)
Just like it always has been. Many of these different requirements have boards that oversee them. Many of them have different agencies that always check the box to make sure those certificates are updated, that they’re renewed. That’ll all go back to how business as usual has always been done by state government and their governing boards. Bob?

Bob: (18:39)
I’m not a doctor either. It’s like it’s just something-

Kristi Noem: (18:43)
Me either. I just talk like one some days.

Bob: (18:52)
What’s been suggested to me to ask about is ICU beds and how many there are available versus the total number of beds that hospitals or clinics have.

Kim: (19:06)
The question is around ICU beds and how many we have available. The surge planning that we’re doing is to be able to stand up to 1,300 ICU beds. That would be worst case scenario. With our latest projections, it’s more realistic to think that we need about half of those as we look at hospital utilization patterns.

Kim: (19:30)
I don’t have the count right with me about what we have right now. It’s in the 250-ish range, but what I can tell you is of all the hospitalizations so far for COVID, only 24 people have required ICU. We’re well within our capacity to manage this. We’re confident that as we work on getting equipment, getting ventilators, that we’ll be able to meet the need.

Speaker 7: (19:58)
Governor, an off topic and I did ask if it was okay to bring this up-

Kristi Noem: (20:02)

Speaker 7: (20:02)
… out of topic. But the Corps of Engineers has today expressed concern that COVID is pulling so much of the oxygen out of the air that maybe we’re not paying attention to the Missouri River, to spring flooding. It’s still very much an issue. Can you talk a little bit about that and what’s going on on that front?

Kristi Noem: (20:18)
Yeah, we’re definitely still monitoring the Missouri River. We have staff that is assigned to stay on top of where we’re at. I think it’s been very encouraging that we haven’t had the moisture this spring that we potentially could have. We still are projected for the next 10 days to get moisture, but not an overwhelming storm system that would be tough for us to deal with and get through our systems.

Kristi Noem: (20:40)
We’re having regular communication with the Corps. Yes, there’s a lot of balls up in the air right now, but we came into this spring with a lot of snow pack in the Northeast. The James River is still elevated in that flood stage. We’re monitoring that all the time and we’ll continue to do so. We need it to stay dry. We’re still hoping that some of the moisture they predicted for us here will miss us. Then we’re watching the snowpack still continue to come off in Montana. It’s come off well. We’ve had favorable weather systems for that. We’ll continue to monitor it. Mother nature has been better to us than she has been to some of our Southern states who are pretty devastated by tornadoes earlier this week.

Speaker 7: (21:23)
One follow-up if I could?

Kristi Noem: (21:24)

Speaker 7: (21:25)
As long as we’re off topic. Why that hat? Why today?

Kristi Noem: (21:29)
Because I was up late and at 4:00 this morning, I did not wash my hair. I thought about wearing my South Dakota Pork Producers hat, but I couldn’t find it.

Steven: (21:42)
About military month?

Kristi Noem: (21:42)
Military what?

Steven: (21:42)
A military [inaudible 00:21:44], military [inaudible 00:21:44].

Kristi Noem: (21:44)
Oh, yes. It is military month. That’s one of the things that I should be talking about more often. But this is the hat that was a gift from my National Guard. I wear it proudly and thank them for their service.

Steven: (22:00)
[crosstalk 00:22:00] from AP.

Kristi Noem: (22:01)
Yeah, Steven, go ahead.

Steven: (22:04)
What’s your projection that hospitalizations will peak in mid-June? I’m wondering if it’s possible to open up the economy here in South Dakota as soon as the President has recommended or would like?

Kristi Noem: (22:18)
We will make decisions that are best for South Dakota. Some states are talking about opening up early. We’ve already opened up. We never closed. We’re at a different level than they are. But we will continue our mitigation efforts that we have in place today for several more weeks. We have to in order to stick to the plan that we committed to with our healthcare systems to get through this virus spread in a responsible manner. I know that the guidance that the President, the White House has given us is helpful, but we will still make decisions in South Dakota that’s best for our state.

Kristi Noem: (22:50)
Was there another question on the phone line?

Troy: (22:56)
Troy VanDusen, KXLG in Watertown.

Kristi Noem: (22:58)
Go ahead, Troy.

Troy: (23:02)
For Secretary Rysdon, Codington County has moved now into the substantial spread category from minimal to moderate. I’m curious about what has changed to cause that switch.

Kim: (23:14)
Sure. We are trying to keep up with ensuring that folks know at the local level how we’re seeing spread happen within counties. The substantial designation is when we have five or more cases of COVID-19 that are not related to another known positive case or to travel to a region where COVID is very prevalent. That just means that there’s community spread happening in that county and that people need to be aware of that and continue to take the precautions to minimize that spread.

Troy: (23:53)
Thank you.

Kelda Pharris: (23:54)
Hi. This is Kelda Pharris with the American News in Aberdeen.

Kristi Noem: (23:58)
Yep, go ahead.

Kelda Pharris: (24:01)
We have our first confirmed case that is linked to an employee at the Dakota Ranch Beef, our beef processing plant here. Can you expand on maybe what you’ve learned with the Smithfield stuff and how what you’ve learned through that process you’ll be applying that to make sure a similar thing doesn’t happen here?

Kim: (24:24)
Sure. What’s important when folks are in a situation where they are working side by side, that can be in a food processor or manufacturing or many other settings, is that we have good opportunities for social distancing and keeping people physically separate. We also need to make sure that workers have the appropriate equipment to protect themselves and to protect other people from potentially respiratory droplets. We need to make sure that policies that are in place are supporting the workplace practices that can help people stay safe. We can look at things like staggered schedules for breaks and lunch breaks.

Kim: (25:09)
We’re also looking at things like employee screening. What happens when a person shows up for work? How are they screened for symptoms? Are they sent home if they have a fever or other symptoms? There’s a lot of things that can help employers keep their workforce safe. Our experience as being part of the team that’s assessing Smithfield now will help us in other situations where again there’s practices happening where it puts people in close contact with each other. We’re excited by the report that’s going to be coming out. We’ll be using those recommendations with other employers as they navigate this as well.

Kelda Pharris: (25:51)
With that said, do you leave it up to the companies to inform these employees or-

Kristi Noem: (25:59)

Kelda Pharris: (25:59)
… to make sure the agreement?

Kristi Noem: (26:01)
There has been guidance sent to all the businesses in the state of what has been recommended for practices by the CDC. Also today, the Department of Health has a team traveling up to Aberdeen that will be there. That case has been identified, has been isolated. They’ll continue to work with those at the plant to make sure that all practices are being followed and that continual reminder happens through the Department of Health to these businesses of what practices they need to be following to protect their employees.

Kelda Pharris: (26:31)
Just one more question. When you have a demographic who are not English speakers, how do you make sure they’re getting that communication in way that they can use it?

Kristi Noem: (26:45)
Yeah, we utilize interpreters to make sure that that communication is happening and then have documents that are translated to their language that they’re most comfortable with when possible. Many times like for instance in Sioux Falls, we’ve got many nonprofits and other organizations that are partnering with us too. There at that plant, we have many different languages and up to 80 different dialects that are spoken. It can add a level of challenge, but we are able to work with interpreters to make sure everybody understands exactly what they should be doing.

Kelda Pharris: (27:19)
Thank you.

Lee: (27:19)
Governor, Lee [crosstalk 00:27:23].

Kristi Noem: (27:24)
Yep. Go ahead, Lee.

Lee: (27:26)
I just wanted to if you could, if you and maybe the secretary of health could touch real quick on reporting negative test results per county and maybe what you’re seeing initially in terms of testing being done in counties and any thoughts on that?

Kim: (27:46)
Sure. This is Kim Malsam-Rysdon. Again, we’ve been working, as I think we’ve indicated a couple of times this week, to get this level of detail out so that folks can better understand what’s happening in these counties. A couple of things I would just note is that I think we’re seeing tests … of course, now that I say that, I better double check. We’ve seen testing happen in all except one county. Even where we’re seeing no positive cases reported in counties, we are seeing testing happen.

Kim: (28:15)
The way that that happens is it’s decided at a provider level if a person needs to be tested. Again, we encourage people that if they …

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