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Trump Armada: Pierre Boat Parade draws hundreds
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It was partly cloudy Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from flocking to the Missouri River waterfront in Pierre to show their support for President Donald Trump.

A group of around 200 boats gathered outside of the American Legion and, starting at 1 p.m., processed around LaFramboise Island and down the Missouri River Causeway. Hundreds of people gathered at the waterfront to watch as air horns blasted and cars honked, flags waved, and patriotic music played from some of the boats’ speakers.

Holly Thorpe of Mount Vernon, South Dakota, attended the parade with her husband to demonstrate their support. Holly Thorpe said she enjoyed seeing people’s hearts for America, and that it was “heartwarming” to watch everyone express their love and support for the country and the president.

“He’s done what he said he’s gonna do. He’s pro-America all the way, pro-life, and he’s not a politician,” Holly Thorpe said.

Ron and Deb Smith of the Black Hills watched the boats from the water’s edge. The Smiths came out to show support for the president and described the event as patriotic and unifying.

“It’s just a down-home good time, getting like-minded people together,” Ron Smith said of the event.

This isn’t the Smiths’ first pro-Trump event, but it is their first boat parade. In 2016, they attended several Trump campaign rallies in Arizona. They said they support him because he keeps his promises and does what he says he’s going to do.

“He’s pro-life; he’s pro-Second Amendment; he supports police; he’s building the wall,” the Smiths told the Capital Journal. “He bettered our economy until COVID, which is not his fault.”

A pop-up “Trump Shop” was set up at Steamboat Park along with several other vendors and food trucks. People paused to take pictures of the Trump Shop’s bus, which proclaimed “Re-Elect Trump 2020.”

While many patronized the shop to pick up pro-Trump gear, others came prepared.

Bruce Kessler of Gators Pizza decorated his tractor for the occasion. He came to watch the parade with his girlfriend, Jennifer, and support Trump.

“I like his policy — he may not be the smartest, but he’s not a knucklehead like (Democrat Joe) Biden,” Kessler said of Trump.

Clara Jo Bronemann of Pierre attended the event with her dog, Little Joseph, who came decked out in a red cape that read “Make America Safe Again.” Bronemann said the parade was something fun to do in town to enjoy the last few days of summer.

Chastin Tollakson decorated his pickup truck for the event and, along with friend Blaine Hauptman, planned to participate in the impromptu vehicle parade after the boat event.

“I wanted to support Trump. It’s a great way to spend a weekend and get to show off my pickup,” Tollakson said.

Overall, the atmosphere was jubilant, as onlookers displayed their patriotism.

The Fickbohm family, all clad in Make America Great Again hats, brought lawn chairs and sat next to their truck, adorned with Trump and American flags. Matt Fickbohm said the boat parade was “a good time to celebrate President Trump.”

Olowan Rouse and her daughters, Emmalina and Eliana Rasch, came out to support the president despite being yelled at by passersby in a vehicle. Rouse, wearing a sweatshirt that depicted Trump as a superhero, noted the lack of other Native American supporters at the event.

“He is doing amazing things for us, for all of us,” Rouse said.

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COVID-19 stretching needs for food assistance in South Dakota
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Since March, COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc across the country — and South Dakota is not immune to its effects. This “new normal” has necessitated some changes in operations for the nonprofit Feeding South Dakota, as the organization is now seeing two to three times the number of families in need of food assistance.

“Especially like here in the Pierre/Fort Pierre area here, we do our mobile distribution once a month from here, and we went from an average of about 175 households or individuals coming through that were in need of food. We’re now seeing close to 350 households come through just in that distribution alone that we do each month,” Central Operations Manager of Feeding South Dakota Pierre Andrew Walz told the Capital Journal on Thursday.

Statewide, Feeding South Dakota is now serving 17,000 households each month through the mobile food pantries according to Feeding South Dakota’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator Jennifer Stensaas. A family can attend the mobile distribution once per month.

The mobile distribution has been modified to operate as a drive-through since the onset of the pandemic in order to minimize contact among staff volunteers, volunteers, and individuals in need. State officials have also granted waivers for some of the income requirements to receive commodity products through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ordinarily, individuals in need were required to sign paperwork, but now only a verbal confirmation is necessary to receive assistance — a volunteer physically fills out the form.

The monthly mobile distribution occurs on the second Wednesday of each month at River City Transit, 1600 E. Dakota Ave. The next distribution will be Oct. 14.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was created by the federal government through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to address food insecurity concerns. Since the program’s April inception, the USDA has partnered with struggling regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat. Distributors and wholesalers can then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith based organizations, and other non-profits across the country, according to a USDA news release.

Currently, Feeding South Dakota is entering phase three of that program, which will run through October unless Congress extends COVID-19 federal relief funds.

“That’s been a real help to fill that need that’s been there with the changes in the distribution network that we’ve seen, to kind of help us maintain our distributions and get to those extra people,” Walz said.

The increased need necessitates more distributions and more locations, which requires enough staff and trucks to manage it all.

“Being in central South Dakota, we’re kind of unique here where we serve a lot of rural communities. We currently do mobile food distributions in 41 communities throughout the central part of South Dakota, and that’s just out of this location here. So having the capacity to reach those locations, we’ve got two trucks that are pretty much on the road daily to do distribution in those towns,” Walz said.

”Quite a bit” of food is needed to support the increase, Walz said. For July and August of this year, Feeding South Dakota distributed over 2.6 million pounds of food through their mobile food pantries, Stensaas said. In central South Dakota, 655,000 pounds of food were distributed out of the Pierre location in July and August, which Stensaas said was “significantly up” from July-August 2019, when only 189,000 pounds of food were needed.

COVID-19’s negative impact on the service industry and the food supply chain has created a ripple effect, which has made it more difficult for food assistance programs to source food. However, Feeding South Dakota gets products from a variety of sources, such as Feeding America, of which it is a member. The USDA has several programs that Feeding South Dakota can draw supplies from as well, while donations from other individuals and organizations fill in the gaps left by the donor network. A United Way grant provides funds to operate the mobile distribution on a monthly basis.

“As an organization, we do everything we can to make sure that we do have the food or whatever means we can to give it to the people that need it. So we’ll continue to do that no matter what we have to do to work through that,” Walz said.

Most of the food the nonprofit distributes consists of staple items, such as dry shelf essentials (think canned soup and pasta), fresh meats and produce. The Foods to Encourage Program helps individuals in need get access to healthy, balanced products like fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins such as meat, beans, and peanut butter. Sixty-five to 75% of distributed products are considered “foods to encourage.” Feeding South Dakota tries to mix in a variety of foods in each package, but the contents depend on what it has in stock. Regardless, every person gets the same box.

Other valuable resources are volunteers, since Feeding South Dakota needs groups and local businesses to pack the boxes of food to be distributed. Due to COVID-19, only groups of 10 or fewer can volunteer at a time, but there has been an influx of participating groups.

“Since COVID, having consistently packed boxes [has] really become a huge part of our operation, is having the volunteer groups in here on a weekly basis. So we have a lot of regulars that are here every week; one, two, three times a week,” Walz said.

The packing setup has been spread out to maintain social distancing guidelines, and volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear masks. Feeding South Dakota has masks on-hand for those who don’t have one.

The existing food assistance programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, also known as the Senior Box Program) are still in operation. A statewide program, the Pierre location packs and distributes those boxes to just under 1,200 low-income senior citizens in central South Dakota.

Another existing program that continues through the COVID-19 pandemic is The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, that provides food to low-income individuals. Since the onset of the pandemic, TEFAP boxes have been distributed via a mobile food pantry to those that meet certain income requirements. Individuals can self-declare that they need assistance, but if they don’t meet the state standards and still need food, as long as they present a photo ID. Feeding South Dakota provides them with food not in the commodity boxes, no questions asked.

Feeding South Dakota continually needs new volunteers, and those interested can find plenty of opportunities to help out on Feeding South Dakota’s website, https://feedingsouthdakota.galaxydigital.com/. As a nonprofit, financial contributions are also welcomed; Feeding South Dakota accepts donations on their website at https://feedingsouthdakota.org/how-to-help/donate-funds/.

Shown is a highly magnified photo of the virus that creates COVID-19.

COVID-19, By The Numbers
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4 (Same as Friday)

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Hughes County, according to the South Dakota Department of Health as of 4 p.m Monday.

22 (+ 6 from Friday)Active COVID-19 cases in Hughes County as of 4 p.m. Monday.

5 (+ 4 from Friday)Active COVID-19 cases in Stanley County as of 4 p.m. Monday.

6,503,030Total COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of 4 p.m. Monday.

193,705Deaths attributed to COVID-19 across the U.S. as of 4 p.m. Monday.

16,801 (+ 684 from Friday)Total COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Monday.

2,499 (- 16 from Friday)Active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota as of 4 p.m. Monday.

184 (+ 7 from Friday)Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in South Dakota.

110 (+ 12 from Friday)People “currently” hospitalized for COVID-19 in South Dakota.

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Five Pierre students have COVID-19
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COVID-19 infections among South Dakota’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities are still climbing, but the number of active cases is decreasing overall, state health officials reported during a Monday news conference. Meanwhile, Pierre School District officials on Monday reported on their website four new positive cases, bringing its total number of cases to five.

For the week of Sept. 6-12, there were 668 total cases reported for South Dakota K-12 schools, up from 452 total cases the week of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, according to data released Monday by the South Dakota Department of Health. Only 215 of those cases are active, however; 453 infected individuals have recovered. Of the 668 current cases in K-12 schools, 446 are students and 221 are staff. Seven hundred fifty-eight schools reported no active cases, compared with 700 last week.

“It amazes me that [our] numbers are significantly lower than most (knock on wood)… Hope our community can keep our numbers low,” Pierre School District Superintendent Dr. Kelly Glodt told the Capital Journal via email on Friday.

Colleges, universities and technical colleges in South Dakota showed similar trends; the department of health reported 1,053 total cases the week of Sept. 6-12, up from 842 total cases the week of Aug. 30 Sept. 5. Eight hundred sixty of the total cases have recovered. Of the 1,053 current cases among higher education, 1,004 are students and 49 are staff.

The state health department offers central testing for K-12 schools. Over the last two weeks, 121 tests were administered and all came back negative, Secretary of Health Kim Malsom-Rysdon said during a Monday news conference.

The health department has not changed social distancing recommendations for schools; Malsom-Rysdon said they continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“However, the (South Dakota Department of Education) has informed schools that the recommendations around quarantines are recommendations and the school board has the final decision making ability relative to whether they follow those guidelines or not,” Malsom-Rysdon said during Monday’s press conference.

Some school districts have developed templates for informing people if they have been in close contact with a positive case, but that has not taken the place of the health department’s contact tracing, Malsam-Rysdon said.

The state now has 278 contact tracers investigating positive cases, notifying those who have been in close contact with a positive case, and performing 10-day call backs to check on those released from isolation. The number of calls per day can vary, but tracers usually make four or more calls per hour, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton. It generally takes 10-20 minutes for a close contact notification call.

Contact tracers face the “very real challenge” of unanswered calls, Malsom-Rysdon said. She said it is important that individuals pick up the phone when called by a contact tracer, or at least return the call.

“When people help us with that, it helps us not waste time repeatedly calling people, and we will repeatedly call people until we get ahold of them. The success rate of calling people and having them pick up the first time is not where we’d like it to be; we’d like it to be much higher,” Malsom-Rysdon said.

The department of health reported on Monday 163 new COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, with six new hospitalizations, 125 recoveries, and 1,846 new tests administered. South Dakota now has 16,801 total cases, with 2,499 active cases and 14,118 recovered. Overall, 110 cases have required hospitalization and 184 people have died of COVID-19 statewide as of Monday.

“We will continue to aggressively promote the CDC guidance as it pertains to what people can do to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe from COVID and so those recommendations remain the same: good hand hygiene, staying away from individuals when you can at least six feet feet, minimizing indoor contact with people to the greatest extent possible. If you can’t do those things, then consider wearing a mask. Those things are going to continue to be really important especially as we look to flu season; there’s gonna be more opportunity for people to be getting sick from multiple different viruses,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Mask wearing is only a suggestion; Malsam-Rysdon said that there is not a “hard and fast rule” concerning face coverings, but that healthy individuals without breathing problems should wear a mask in situations where they cannot socially distance.

Clayton echoed Malsam-Rysdon’s words that the health department is continuing to campaign for “aggressive awareness” of COVID-19 risks.

“COVID can strike individuals wherever they’re at, within their communities, within their homes, at events,” Clayton said.

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South Dakota traffic deaths, especially motorcycles, far above 2019 figures
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Traffic deaths in South Dakota so far this year are well above 2019 figures by this time, including a doubling of motorcyclists killed in crashes.

But Tony Mangan, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said the context is important: last year saw the state’s record low in traffic deaths and 2020 so far is right at the average of previous few years, despite being so much higher than 2019.

Through Thursday, Sept. 10, 80 people have died in traffic crashes in the state, up from 58 by the same date in 2019, Mangan told the Capital Journal.

But he pointed out that the dramatic increase is largely a function of last year’s anomalous low.

The average number of traffic deaths from Jan. 1-Sept. 10 in the five years 2014-2018 was 80, Mangan said.

In 2018 by this point, 94 people had died in traffic crashes in South Dakota.

“So we are about where we usually are at this time of year,” he said.

The long-term trend has been fewer and fewer traffic deaths in the state — and nationwide — even as the number of miles driving keeps increasing.

In the 30 years before 2019, annual traffic fatalities averaged 152 in South Dakota. However, in the decade from 2009 to 2018, the average was 129.5, according to DPS figures.

In 2019, the number of deaths totaled 102, the lowest since figures began being recorded just after World War II.

Motorcycle deaths are well ahead of last year’s figures so far: 24 people died on bikes by Sept. 10, double the 12 deaths by the same date in 2019, according to Mangan.

An analysis of the state Department of Public Safety’s figures found:

From 1990-2018, annual traffic deaths averaged 152.1 in the state; but from 2009-2018, the average was 129.5 deaths per year. Motorcycle deaths the past two decades have swung from 10 in 1999 to the record high 31 in 2015. But the average of annual motorcycle deaths has stayed fairly stable: 20.24 annually over the past 21 years; 20.4 annually over the past 10 years.

The record number of motorcycle crash deaths in South Dakota was 31 in 2015 since statistics began being recorded in 1963. A main factor in 2015 was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that brought a record crowd estimated at about 730,000. During the 2015 Rally, in and around Sturgis and the Rapid City District of the state Highway Patrol in the Black Hills, 14 motorcyclists died in crashes.

This year, two men died in motorcycle crashes during the Rally in the same region that is monitored by the Highway Patrol, which is part of the DPS, according to figures from Mangan.

One of the most recent motorcycle deaths in the state was Eric Atkins, 44, of Pinehurst, Idaho. He was driving north on U.S. Highway 85 about 17 miles north of Buffalo in sparsely populated Harding County about 12:40 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 6, on an Indian motorcycle.

He lost control and was thrown from the bike. He was not wearing a helmet and later died of his injuries.

Mangan said a variety of factors can affect traffic statistics each year and he doesn’t hazard a guess on the big difference so far between 2019 and 2020.

Two things come to mind: Much of 2019 saw the wettest conditions on record across much of the state, especially the heaviest-populated eastern one-third of South Dakota. The flooded, closed, ruined, and damaged roads and bridges no doubt cut traveling across large areas of the state for months last year.

On the other hand, by all reports, this year of the COVID-19 pandemic has led some people to get out of their homes and social-distancing strictures by hitting the road and hitting it fast.

Law enforcement officers across the nation, including in South Dakota, report seeing way more drivers exceeding speed limits by huge amounts, with speeds of 100 mph not as uncommon as they usually area, with some seen around 150 mph or more. Because many assumed that overall traffic numbers were down during the pandemic, some of them decided to take advantage of open roads and — they hoped — fewer law officers on patrol and really wind it out.

The state Highway Patrol this year has regularly posted on its social media photos of troopers’ dash cams showing the radar detector indicating speeds of in three digits which led to the stop of the vehicle shown in the photo through the windshield.

Mangan said that the main safety factors remain: don’t speed, don’t drive drunk and use seat belts.