CANTON, S.D. (KELO) — There are 12 white crosses on the lawn of the Good Samaritan nursing home in Canton.

Community members say those crosses stand for 12 residents who have died from the coronavirus. The care facility’s residents and staff have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. The community has absorbed some hits as well.

There have been so many recent deaths that one page in the Nov. 12 edition of the Sioux Valley News newspaper did not hold all of the obituaries.

Emily Souvignier, a reporter/writer, with the Sioux Valley News in Canton, said the paper’s Nov. 12 edition had at least 15 obituaries. Souvignier believes most of those deaths were caused by COVID-19.

A clip from Emily Souvignier’s Facebook page showing some of the obits in the Thursday, Nov. 12, edition of the Sioux Valley News.

As of Nov. 11, Lincoln County had 14 COVID-19 deaths in November, according to South Dakota Department of Health data.

A community vigil

The office manager and a person in a worship position at the United Methodist Church organized a prayer vigil outside the Good Samaritan home on the night of Sunday, Nov. 1, said the Rev. Clay Lundberg of the church.

“About 50 of us gathered in the Good Sam parking lot,” Lundberg said.

Community members and at least one other pastor participated.

“We said prayers as we walked around the building,” Lundberg said.

Those who gathered prayed for Good Sam residents, staff and administration. Some laid their hands on the building, Lundberg said.

“It was huge. Something really important happened with that,” Lundberg said of the prayer vigil.

Two Good Sam employees each independently described the COVID-19 situation as “a battle zone in there,” Lundberg said. They also thanked the participants for what they said were much needed prayers and show of support.

Lundberg and Souvignier said they’ve heard a significant number of residents and staff have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it.

“It’s terrifying,” Lundberg said.

KELOLAND News asked Sanford Health about COVID-19 increases in Good Samaritan facilities and how increases may be impacting staff in the region and received a statement from Nate Schema, vice president of operations for Good Samaritan.

Staff at Good Samaritan facilities have provided “outstanding care” during the challenges of the pandemic, Schema said in the statement.

“They have worked diligently to serve our residents and communities and we know it has been challenging,” Schema said. “All of our residents are served with safety and person-centered care as our highest priorities.”

The white crosses outside of the Good Samaritan nursing home in Canton. Photo courtesy of Emily Souvignier.

When the funeral home calls

Souvignier knows there will be more obituaries in this Monday for the Nov. 19 edition. More people have died. Some didn’t make the deadline for this week’s edition.

The local funeral home has a habit of letting the newspaper know on Monday mornings if an obituary will be sent before that week’s deadline.

“On a normal Monday morning call, we might have one or two,” Souvignier said.

Now, when the funeral home’s phone number shows up on the telephone screen, the newspaper staff may cringe.

“We’ve never had so many at a time where it makes you sick,” Souvignier said.

As those recent, double-digit obituaries are received, read, proofread and placed in design for the weekly edition, the staff tends to take some time to recall those individuals, Souvignier said.

“It’s a pretty young staff at the newspaper office,” Souvignier said. “We’ve looked up to these adults.”

While not all staff members may know the individuals personally, they may recognize the person as a friend’s neighbor or someone’s grandparent, she said.

“It hits you hard,” Souvignier said of the deaths.

Souvignier said talking about the deceased at work has helped. One way she copes is to continue to talk through the situation with family and friends.

“Reaching out to people for support…even if it’s over the phone (now),” Souvignier said.

Faces of COVID19

Local spiritual support in the community

There’s additional support in what Souvignier said is a tightknit community of about 3,300.

The faith community, which includes local pastors and churches, has always had a big support role in Canton. These days that role has increased, Souvignier said.

Lundberg arrived as the new Methodist pastor in Canton in early July. Recently he’s had more people reach out than ever.

“It’s a huge honor, first of all that they trust me…,” Lundberg said. He is willing and wants to help.

Yet, at times, it can be draining, Lundberg said. Those times can be days when he receives 17 phone calls.

But the community is in need, he said.

The state has reported more than 140 COVID-19 deaths from Nov. 1 through Nov. 11. Twenty-nine of those are in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties.

Losing one of their own

Local pastors were stunned by the recent COVID-19 death of one of their own when the Rev. Lance Lindgren, the pastor at Grand Valley Lutheran Church in rural Canton, died.

Lindgren’s death happened within days of his COVID-19 diagnosis, Lundberg said. As with most local pastors, Lindgren was a member of the local ministerial association.

The association is very active in promoting programs and awareness of needs in the community, Lundberg said.

It is also deliberate and providing time for ministers to support each other.

Ministers are free to share about what has been life giving and what has been draining. “We hold each other up in prayer,” Lundberg said.

Souvignier believes the community is also holding each other up in prayer.

Community response to COVID-19

Lundberg and Souvignier said the community has taken COVID-19 seriously with many wearing masks and social distancing and supporting a mask requirement in the local school district.

Lundberg said his church has had in person worship since May. About 85% of the attendees wear masks and pews are blocked off so that people can be physically spaced apart.

Souvignier said several community social gatherings have been canceled or adjusted because of COVID-19.

But Souvignier said the community may also have been lulled into a false sense that because it’s small town, COVID-19 wouldn’t hit as hard as in a larger city.

“Most people do recognize that COVID-19 is serious, especially now,” Souvignier said.

The recent obituaries are evidence that with COVID-19, living in a small town isn’t protection against a pandemic.

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