There is a Pandemic but South Dakota Didn’t Change

There is a Pandemic but South Dakota Didn’t Change

Story | Emma Buss

Eight months ago, no one in South Dakota had any idea what was about to happen. 

It seems that nothing really changed… 

Nothing shut down, nothing closed early, masks were not provided, masks were worn by little. 

My dad mentioned to me one day in February about a virus. Is this the same virus that shut down travel from Wuhan? I ask him. He says I think so. Like the cruise ship? He types quickly, he whispers to himself, he then talks loudly: the Diamond Princess? This is the same ship that went into quarantine

That conversation sits far in my memory, and fades with each day of the news cycle. I sit at my desk trying to remember the chronological sequence of events. I do not know if I was lucky or if it is a twisted way of understanding COVID-19 here in the States but, I did not feel the effects until March. Myself and my fellow students at the University of South Dakota went to Spring Break having no idea what would happen. All of my homework was caught up, I was ready to work every day of my break. Rumors, quiet conversations and gasping “no ways” spread across the grocery store. They might be extending Spring Break to figure this out. How would that be helpful? That night a customer told me that that borders will be shut down. They can see my face clearly. I am confused. Twenty minutes later, a couple comes in at 1 a.m. in hazard gear. Gloved, helmeted, masked….

I will admit, I was not too sure about the mask idea. I spent little time researching about the virus. I understood that it was deadly. I felt empathy for the people in Italy, the people in New York, the doctors in Wuhan being silenced but I was not wearing a mask. Our Spring Break was extended to two weeks. Then two days later, we were online until Easter. By the end of the week, we were fully online until the Fall semester. It did not cross my mind that this was serious by watching the college town of Vermillion empty overnight. It did not cross my mind that it was serious when I began to finish the semester online. By the end of March, it began to change all around me. 

The first positive case in Vermillion was a person my age. Suddenly….

Bars: closed.

Restaurants: open only for take-out. 

Campus: no student access, international students forced to remain in their dorms, low-income students filling out forms to get permission from the college to remain in their dorms.

My place of work went from open 24 hours to closing at 8 p.m. in a matter of weeks. 

Still, no mask mandate. Our state borders never closed. Our Governor never put out a state-wide curfew. The Indigenous population closed the reservation borders on weekends to try and protect their land and people. 

The first positive case in Vermillion urged me to put on a mask. I was one of the few. Besides my mother and my sister who I also worked with, I could tell the coworkers who wore masks and gloves like us. 

June. Masks Recommended. 

It was chaos at my job. I walked into disaster and I left with it still in disaster. It was now required to wear masks at work but was not required of the shoppers. It was a week or so after the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota shut down when suddenly, the New York Times was writing about our state. Their products were being pulled off the shelf. People were convinced that the virus was injected in the meat. 

July. Kristie Noem hosted Donald Trump at Mount Rushmore. The news outlets were watching us. In Vermillion, the bars opened back up. You were now able to sit down in restaurants again. Social distancing became recommended. 

A rally was held in August during a pandemic in a state without a mask mandate or a curfew. 

I never really got to quarantine. I was considered essential. I am fortunate that I did not lose my job or my home. I am privileged in this pandemic. COVID-19 cases increase daily in my state and our Governor will not implement any precautions. 

Eight months have passed; South Dakota has done nothing to slow the spread of a deadly virus.

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