Eye on KELOLAND: The pandemic hits home


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As we start the new year, we’re looking back at the stories that defined 2020, and there was no bigger story than the COVID-19 pandemic.

From school closings and stay-at-home orders, to mask mandates and untimely deaths, 2020 is a year we’ll never forget. Here’s how the past 12 months have changed life in South Dakota, and the entire world.

2020 started like most years.

As we were ringing in the new year, the World Health Organization was learning of a viral pneumonia in Wuhan, China. It was later identified as a novel coronavirus. On February 11th, WHO announced the disease would be named COVID-19.

Exactly one month later, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. That same day, South Dakota confirmed its first cases of COVID-19, and its first death.

“One of the biggest things that we can do to keep people healthy is for people to stay home,” Governor Kristi Noem said on March 11, 2020.

A few days later, schools across South Dakota locked their doors.

“We will not be holding school next week in the state of South Dakota,” Noem said on March 13, 2020.

The boys and girls state basketball tournaments were the next dominoes to fall. Eventually, the entire spring high school sports season was canceled.

In late March, South Dakota State Representative Bob Glanzer was diagnosed with COVID-19. He died April 3rd.

“He was one of a kind. I can’t say a whole lot other than the fact that he’s touched my life and will continue to do so,” Rep. Arch Beal said on April 20, 2020.

In April, the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls transformed into the top coronavirus hotspot in America.

“The growth and spread of this virus, now we’re seeing firsthand how dangerous it can be and how serious we need to take it,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said on April 10, 2020.

More than 1,000 positive cases were tied to Smithfield employees and their close contacts. Two employees died in April. The plant was closed from April 13th to May 7th.

As the number of cases climbed through the summer, more than 460,000 people attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August.

“We need to see an America that we are not going to be fearful, cautious but not fearful,” Washington resident Joel Morris said on August 7, 2020.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control says 86 Minnesota COVID-19 cases, covering nearly one-third of the state’s counties, were associated with the Sturgis Rally.

In late August, students started returning to school. After using distance learning last spring, Governor Noem spoke on the importance of learning within the walls of a classroom

“We lost track of 30% of our kids in the state. I mean, they did not check in once we called off school last spring,” Noem said on August 31, 2020.

The high school sports season started on-time in South Dakota, but the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Summit League postponed fall sports until spring, while the NSIC suspended all sports through the end of the calendar year.

“At the end of the day, it’s about how do we keep our athletes, coaches, staff, our community safe, and we couldn’t say at this point that we could do that,” Augustana Director of Athletics Josh Morton said on August 13, 2020.

As October neared its end…

“Wear a dang mask,” Mayor TenHaken said.

Masks were a hot topic in cities across the state. Sioux Falls passed a mask mandate on November 17th, but a violation carries no penalty.

Sanford Health and longtime CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft parted ways on November 24th. A week earlier, Krabbenhoft sent a controversial email to Sanford Health employees where he shared opinions on masking and immunity.

“All I did in my letter, was again in a hopeful way, in a positive way, as a recovering virus patient, suggest that there is a growing body of evidence and discussion about the longevity of the immunity that is garnered from this. That’s all I said,” former Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft said on November 20th.

The total number of deaths among South Dakotans with COVID-19 more than doubled in the month of November.

After surpassing 1,000 deaths in early December, South Dakota, and the entire country, received some welcomed news, as the FDA approved Emergency Use Authorization on a pair of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The preliminary data we saw showed very similar efficacy and safety profile between the Moderna and Pfizer, and so we are considering them as far as which one you get, to be interchangeable,” Avera’s Dr. David Basel said on December 17, 2020.

Providing hope as we start 2021.

More than 1,500 South Dakotans with COVID-19 died in 2020. The death toll hit more than 350,000 in the United States, while 1.8 million with the virus died around the world.

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