State officials expect South Dakotans to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks.
That’s one takeaway from a Wednesday news conference Gov. Kristi Noem and Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, who addressed media members about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a myriad of other issues facing South Dakota.
Malsam-Rysdon told reporters she anticipates the state will receive roughly 24,000 doses of vaccine in time to begin distributing and administering them in December.
“There is a bright spot on the horizon folks. And that’s when we have effective vaccines for COVID,” she said. “There are two front runners that we expect to have initial doses certainly by the end of the year.”
The first batch of vaccines will be prioritized for front-line healthcare workers who work directly with coronavirus patients and second priority will be long-term care facility residents, who are among the most likely not to recover if they contract the virus, she said.
Here’s what else we learned:
Relief funds unspent
South Dakota is still trying to disperse what’s left of the $1.25 billion it received in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds through the CARES Act.
While the state has stood up grant programs aimed at sending more than $500 million to small businesses, hospitals, nursing homes and nonprofits, there’s likely to be money leftover once all applications are processed, Noem told reporters.
That’s why she’s continuing to call for an extension to the Dec. 30 deadline for states to have spent all the pandemic relief dollars each was allocated, saying that she met with officials of the U.S. Treasury Department and members of Congress during a visit to Washington D.C. Monday and Tuesday.
“We will be dealing with this virus in 2021, and we want to make sure that we have the resources to meet the needs of the healthcare workers and the families that are continuing to struggle through this pandemic,” Noem said.
Interest in expanding grant programs
In October, Noem launched the $580 million Small Business and Healthcare Provider Relief Program to benefit organizations that suffered financial hardships amid the pandemic.
A month later, the state has received nearly 6,000 applications. Small businesses make up the largest share of applications with 5,100 seeking relief funds. Applications have also been received from 600 nonprofits and 200 community health and acute care, according to figures Noem shared at the news conference.
Still, Noem anticipates not all of the $580 million dedicated for the program will be allocated under the current guidelines of the program.
“We’re looking at options on how we can expand this grant and also looking at ways we can use this money to help those that have been affected by the pandemic,” she said.
Hazard pay for health workers
As hospital and nursing home staff across the country grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, staffing shortages are making caring for patients a challenge in some places. That’s why Noem said she’s reviewing the possibility of using remaining pandemic relief funds to support workers on the front lines.
“We’re also looking at ways to get hazard pay out to our healthcare workers,” she said. “We know that they certainly are dealing with a lot of consequences of their service to the public at this time.”
Meeting with Trump cabinet
While in the nation’s capitol earlier in the week, Noem also met with members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet during their final days in the White House. She said she specifically spent time with Attorney General William Barr, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.
Wind energy and LEO recruitment
Noem used her presser to tout seven newly constructed wind farms in the state with an economic impact she estimated to be as much as $2 billion, as well as the a successful marketing campaign to recruit new police officers to the state.
Noem said since launching the recruiting campaign last month, law enforcement officers “in the hundreds” from 25 states have applied to join the ranks of a South Dakota agency.
“They recognize that we respect the work that public safety offices are doing in our communities to keep them safe and they want to come join our team and be a part of the great people in the state of South Dakota,” she said.