Dispute over state’s handling of COVID-19 case in central SD

Coronavirus

The communities of Chamberlain and Oacoma had quite a scare this week. As KELOLAND Investigates first reported, authorities say a man who had tested positive for COVID-19, ignored doctor’s and official’s orders to self-quarantine and instead visited businesses in both communities.

The Lyman County State’s Attorney, Steve Smith, is frustrated the state didn’t do more. But the state says it acted quickly.

Oacoma man isolated

The Oacoma man, who is in his 70’s, is now in isolation where he can’t be a threat to others or be in danger himself. The Lyman County State’s Attorney said a number of threats have come in against the man, who knowingly went out in public after being diagnosed. Steve Smith has some strong words on the lack of action by the South Dakota Department of Heath and Governor Kristi Noem when it came to containing the man.

Panic spread across Chamberlain and Oacoma after word went around that the COVID-19 positive man had ignored self-quarantine orders.

Smith: The next morning he decided to bike around town, both Oacoma and Chamberlain and stop into another retail business and engage in commerce that way.
Kennecke: Even after he’d been warned?
Smith: Yes.

Lyman Co. Asks for Court Order

Lyman County State’s Attorney Steve Smith says he tried to get a court order directing the South Dakota Department of Health to utilize law enforcement to take the man into custody until the designated quarantine time had passed and he was symptom free.
According to the governor’s office, while not a court order, the Department of Health did issue a public health intervention order to the man, telling him to self-isolate.

Smith: I actually consider this whole case to be a matter where the Department of Health showed no spine in trying to enforce what authority they had. And the governor had no backbone in trying to give these two communities the help they needed to protect themselves.

Kennecke: So you’re saying a public health emergency declared by the governor is the only thing that would have really given you the tool you need to take care of this?

Smith: Had the governor made a declaration of a health emergency; she has certain powers in House Bill 1296 that was passed last week by the State Legislature, that would have given us the tools we needed to take further action in making sure the public was safe.

Dept. of Health says it acted “swiftly”

In this case, the South Dakota Secretary of Health says the public health intervention order was sufficient and from the moment the Department of Health was alerted, the man was isolated in his home

“If we go to that step and the person doesn’t comply with that order, which is an order from the Secretary of the Dept. of Health to take certain actions, then we would consider issuing a public health emergency. What that does is allows judicial enforcement of that particular order. So, we will use all the tools available to handle any particular situation if a person is not doing what that need to do. At this point, we have not had to issue a public health order for that purpose.”

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon

SD Highway Patrol isolates man

But Smith tells KELOLAND investigates that while the details are confidential, it actually took the Highway Patrol stepping in to help isolate the man.

“The nature of what happened here isn’t going to be a one-time affair in the state. And it’s something that any small town has the fear of happening in their communities. And in the sense of what we were told could not be done and discovered how little we would be able to actually do.”

Steve Smith, Lyman Co. State’s Attorney


Smith says he is still considering charging the man for endangering the public’s health, but chose not to do so immediately because that would mean he would have had to be brought to jail, and the virus could have been spread there.

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