Coronavirus chaos

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe, leaving catastrophic financial and physical damage in its wake, Custer and the surrounding area are not immune to the issues felt around the world.
Cancellations and postponements too numerous to name have become the norm. The state has closed schools until early May at least, stores are struggling to keep cleaning supplies, toilet paper and certain foods and drinks in stock. Layoffs and downsizing have begun as the ripple effect of the virus continues to take a toll.
The virus has taken its toll on businesses around Custer, including at Buglin’ Bull, where Don Anderson, president of WR Hospitality, which owns the restaurant, said business is down so much that the restaurant will have to take an honest look at how many employees it can keep on and for how many hours a day. Anderson said WR is already reeling from mandated restaurant closings in other states.
Anderson said Buglin’ Bull will stay open as long as it is allowed.
“We do crisis meetings every day to monitor what’s going on and monitor what we have to comply with,” he said.
At Black Hills Burger and Bun, owner Christie Smith said the restaurant has not seen a drastic decrease in business yet, but there has been a shift in the number of people from out of town who are coming in. The restaurant, like many, has transitioned to offering curbside pickup and pushing carry-out to make things as easy as possible on customers.
Aleah Witt, manager  of Pizza Mill, said it has experienced a decrease in business after a remarkable winter. She said it was very disheartening when things took a downturn two weekends ago.
“We didn’t think we would be affected so quickly, but as soon as the announcement to ‘avoid restaurants and bars and practice social distancing,’ it was like a light switched off,” she said.
Witt said Pizza Mill has been trying to make a plan for it and the seasonal businesses.
“With all the uncertainty, it has been a lot, but we are just trying to remain positive and avoid all the ‘what-ifs,’” she said. “It doesn't seem like people are super concerned about the virus, but they are definitely talking about it. It is the talk of the town and so many people have questions about it.” 
Those in the tourism  industry are becoming increasingly nervous. Leah Scott, chief operating officer at Custer Hospitality, said that business is seeing a significant increase in cancellations and a significant decrease in bookings. The changes are reflected not only in April and May but even into June and July.  
“We are taking one day at a time,” she said.
Getting the foreign workers the tourism industry relies on into the country is proving to be more difficult, as Scott said the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is closed, so Custer Hospitality is unable to obtain its out-of-country workers.  
Custer Hospitality has  an additional 18 returning employees in the country working the winter season at ski resorts, which have been closed due to the pandemic. Scott said they are hopeful they will still be able to receive the returning employees mid-April before there is any chance of them having to return to Jamaica and not re-enter. 
“We are doing our best to continue to put our best foot forward and be optimistic, but realistically we are very much concerned for our 2020 season,” she said.
Monday a post from Custer Hospitality on Facebook said, given the rapidly changing environment surrounding COVID-19, the company was “making the difficult decision to temporarily close our Super 8 Custer/Crazy Horse Area immediately as a sign of solidarity and support of the national effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and, in doing so, protect the community and employees.
“This is a new kind of reality — one we never imagined possible. Travel bans, social distancing and government mandates have made our businesses unable to serve those on the road.”
The post said Custer Hospitality is suspending operations until early April at the earliest.
“While this will not affect guests currently on-site or arriving tomorrow, we will accept no new bookings for this time period and will cancel bookings between March 22 and April 12. We will continue to reevaluate operations as the weeks progress,” the post read.
“If you need to cancel your plans with us, we are waiving cancellation fees until further notice. Give us a call at 605-673-2200 and we’ll take care of you,” the post continued.
Last Thursday, representatives from the City of Custer, Custer County, law enforcement, the U.S. Forest Service, area national parks and other officials gathered to discuss a concerted effort to spread awarness about and attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, with county emergency management director Mike Carter saying there are too many people not paying attention to what is going on and mandated closing of non-essential businesses could be coming. Carter asked those gathered what could be done to fill in the gaps.
“If we would put a concious effort on the (quarantine and social distancing) recommendations, it would go a long way,” Carter said.
Susan Bawdon of Monument Health - Custer Hospital said both the senior care and assisted living centers in town are closed to visitation, and at the hospital only one visitor is allowed per person, and the visitors must be screened first to make sure there is no chance they are carrying the virus.
Bawdon said the hospital is doing a great deal of surge planning, and if the “curve” of the spread of the virus is not flattened, it will overrun medical facilities.
Those who believe they may have coronavirus should not show up at the hospital. Rather, they should call ahead to be screened and potentially scheduled for a test. The hospital offers drive-through testing behind the hospital for those who meet the criteria for potentially having the virus.
While the Custer County Courthouse is still operating, precautions are being taken for social distancing, from postponement of court dates to striping the floor in front of offices with red tape that tell the public how far they need to stay away to maintain a safe distance. The county is also staying away from large-scale meetings.
Carter said it is important to be open and honest with the public, as misinformation can be the worst enemy of the effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
Tim Hartmann, planning administrator for the City of Custer, said city hall is closed to the public, although business can still be conducted via phone, email and a dropbox outside city hall. He said the city’s wastewater plant is functioning fine, but reminded people their toilets “are not a trash can,” and that people should not flush paper towels, baby wipes, etc., down the toilet.
On the dispatch and law enforcement end of things, the 24/7 sobriety program has been suspended and minimal people are being allowed into the sheriff’s office or dispatch. If some deputies or dispatchers were to contract the virus, Fall River County stands ready to help Custer County with both law enforcement and dispatch, and vice-versa. Detox in Rapid City is closed, Sheriff Marty Mechaley said, and a rise in crime is possible, especially theft, as more people are put out of work.
“This thing is continually changing and we are doing anything we can to prepare,” he said.
Some concerns were raised about foreign workers coming to town carrying the virus, in particular a group recently in India that works for a janitorial service that cleans buildings in Custer. It was determined more information should be gathered on those workers, such as how many were potentially exposed as well as if they have been quarantined, etc.
Pam Power, pastor at Custer Lutheran Fellow-ship, said most of the churches in town have cancelled all services. She said Custer Ministerial Alliance is ready to help those who may lose their job due to the virus’ impact.
The county’s vulnerable elderly population was discussed and the county will offer manpower to help deliver meals to those who need it, Carter said.
“Those people all took care of us one time. It’s time we turn around and return that favor,” he said.
Monica Whiting of the Custer Senior Meals Program sent a letter last week that meals will be open Monday, with new protocols for meal delivery that include:
• If you choose to receive a meal, drivers will call you when they enter your driveway.  As always, you must let them know you are OK.  
• The meal will be delivered in a bag hung on your doorknob. Drivers must stay six feet from you if you visit with them. No hugs until further notice.
• Disposable containers only will be used. You cannot return the trays and bowls you currently have.  Put them in a bag and drivers will pick them up when all threats of the virus have passed.
• Drivers have a strict responsibility to sanitize before and after each delivery.
• Coolers that are easier to sanitize than the current canvas coolers will be used.  All coolers, ice packs, hot packs and everything else that has left the church will be sanitized.
• The kitchen is sanitized before prep begins and just before we leave each day.
• Meals will not be served at the church, but can be picked up by those who drive. They may not enter the church. Meals will be delivered to their vehicles.
• Meals drivers will not be allowed to enter the church to get meals. They will also be delivered.
These changes are in effect until at least May 15.
Other cancellations/postponements include:
• Mount Rushmore National Memorial closed its information center and the bookstore in the information center. Carvers’ Café and the gift shop were also closed. Although visitor services will be limited, park grounds will remain open.
• The National Park Service  has temporarily suspended its collection of all park entrance fees until further notice.
• Both Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument have closed their visitor  centers/park stores. The trails at the park are still available. Custer State Park administrative office and visitor center are closed, although trails, roads, etc., remain open.
• Custer County Library reminds the public that it has free Wi-Fi access from its parking lot, with no password. It has cancelled all of its activities until further notice, but will maintain regular hours as long as possible.
• Lynn’s Dakotamart has limited the number of certain items a person may buy at one time and will not accept returns of food, paper products, sanitary (cleaning supply) items, baby items and medicine.
• Among the closures  or partial closures are Dacotah Bank (drive-up only), First Interstate Bank (drive-up only), Gold Pan Saloon, Custer Senior Center, Custer YMCA,  Golden West, Custer YMCA daycare, Black Hills Federal Credit Union (drive-up only), Black Hills Energy. BHE has also temporarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment, and Golden West  will waive late charges and forgo disconnects for customers who are financially impacted by COVID-19 through May 15.
• The recently postponed Friends of Custer County Search & Rescue  (SAR) fundraising dinner is  rescheduled for Oct. 17 at Crazy Horse Memorial. Tickets purchased will be honored on that date, but if a refund is preferred, contact, visit any SAR member or call 673-1571. Auction donations will be stored until the event. Contact SAR if you would like your donation returned or have any other questions.
• The Department of Labor and Regulation (DLR) is accepting reemployment assistance (unemployment insurance) claims from workers who are not able to work due to COVID-19. Eligibility will be determined on a case-by-case basis. 
Based on current guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, DLR is modifying existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits who are affected in any of the following ways:
• Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency
• Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns, or
• Those who test positive for COVID-19.
Workers may file for benefits online at or by calling 626-2452. Online filing is encouraged. 
“Our call center wait time is approximately one hour due to the volume of new claims,” said state Labor and Regulation secretary Marcia Hultman. “Please don’t stress if you can’t get your claim filed right away in the first week. Claims can be back dated.”
Additionally, claimants will not have to search for other work provided they take reasonable steps to preserve their ability to come back to their job when the quarantine is lifted or the illness subsides.  
People who are being paid to work from home or those receiving paid sick or vacation leave are NOT eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, regardless if they experience any or all of the situations listed above.
Employers who decide to shut down due to causes related to COVID-19 should treat the shutdown as a temporary layoff.
To date there are 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota with one death, 790 negative cases and 268 tests remain pending, according to the state department of health.
Globablly there have been 407,633 documented cases of the virus, resulting in 18,250 deaths. Over 104,000 people have recovered. In the U.S., there have been 49,594 cases, with 622 deaths.
Gov. Kristi Noem confirmed Monday morning that there is evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in the state, beginning in Beadle County where there are now 12 positive cases.
On Monday morning, Noem and Department of Health secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon announced there were seven new cases in the state, including two more in Beadle County and individual cases in Codington, Davison, Hughes, Lyman and McCook counties. Three of the new cases are hospitalized.
Projections of the spread of the virus suggest that 30 percent of South Dakota’s population may contract COVID-19, Noem said, while adding it would be longer than a “two week problem,” suggesting the virus may not peak in South Dakota until May or early June.
Carter said, with snowbirds coming back and tourists potentially starting to show up soon, people have to do what is necessary to stem the tide of the virus.
“We’re a society that’s very resistant to change. That’s got to change, people,” he said. “This isn’t going to go away in two weeks.”


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