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South Dakota Gov. Demands Tribes Remove Coronavirus Checkpoints

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  • Two tribes in South Dakota have set up checkpoints to monitor and regulate who comes and goes from their reservation during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Both tribes have very limited medical resources of their own and believe this is the best way to protect themselves. One tribe leader said the closest medical facility to their reservation is three hours away.
  • Governor Kristi Noem believes that these checkpoints violate the law as some go into U.S. and state highways, and a recent moratorium suggests that tribes should work with the government before shutting down travel there. She has demanded that the checkpoints be removed, threatening legal action.
  • The tribes and other state legislators believe that they are acting within their legal rights, as many laws state that highways running through tribal land are not in the state’s jurisdiction.

Governor Noem’s Demand

Leaders of two tribes in South Dakota are rejecting the Governor’s demand that they shut down coronavirus checkpoints on the borders of their reservations.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe both independently established these checkpoints in early April to monitor and regulate who was coming to and leaving their reservations. On Friday, Governor Kristi Noem ordered that they take them down.

“If the checkpoints are not removed within the next 48 hours, the State will take necessary legal action,” Noem said in a statement.

In letters to both tribes, she claimed that these leaders were acting outside of their legal authority by exerting control over state and U.S. highways, where some of these checkpoints are located. Noem said that an April moratorium stated that tribes must consult with the state of South Dakota and enter into an agreement before or restricting travel on State or U.S. Highways. She claims no discussion of this nature happened. 

Tribal Leaders Respond

The tribes believe that they are acting within their legal boundaries to protect themselves. Both tribes have enacted stay-at-home measures, something that Noem has not done for the state. They believe that those measures, along with the checkpoints, are the most effective way to protect their reservations from an outbreak, which they do not have the means to respond to.

“The nearest health care, critical care is three hours away from where we live,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier told CNN. Frazier also says that while the reservation is home to 12,000 people, they only have an eight-bed facility. They also do not have ICUs.

Speaking in a Facebook Live on Saturday, President Julian Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe said his reservation also lacked the resources to respond to this pandemic. His reservation services almost 47,000 people, but was only allocated four ventilators by the government.

Bear Runner claims that his tribe had to take action because both the state and federal government had an inadequate response to the outbreak.

“We have adopted our border arrival and monitoring plan to save the lives of our people, including our elderly tribal members, without whom we cannot pass on our language, culture and traditions,” he said during the Facebook Live. Bear Runner also added that he believes his tribe is not violating the law, as they have not closed off any highways and do not intend to do so.

Frazier has also condemned the government’s response to the outbreak. He put out a statement on Friday rejecting Noem’s request. 

“I absolutely agree that we need to work together during this time of crisis, however you continue to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation,” he wrote. 

What are the Checkpoints?

According to guidelines set by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, both residents and non-residents must complete a health questionnaire upon leaving and entering the reservation. Residents can only go to non-hot spots within the state for essential reasons. If a resident plans on traveling to a hot spot or outside of the state, they can only do so for essential work, a medical appointment, or obtaining or delivering essential supplies that are not available within the reservation. They must also quarantine for 14 days when they return unless they obtain a travel permit. 

Non-residents are only allowed on the reservation for essential reasons and can only come from non-hot spots in the state. If they come from elsewhere, they must have a travel permit and can also only do so for essential work, a medical appointment, or obtaining or delivering essential supplies that are not available within the reservation. Travel permits can be obtained via application from the tribe. 

Letter From Legislators 

The tribes have support from 17 state legislators in South Dakota who wrote a letter to Noem on Saturday asking that she work with the tribes on this issue. They believe the state does not have the authority to shut the checkpoints down. 

They wrote that several laws and court rulings have established that “the State of South Dakota has no jurisdiction over the highways running through Indian lands in the state without tribal consent.”

The legislators also fear that if the governor escalates the matter to a lawsuit, this “will ultimately cost the people of South Dakota more money.”

The representatives and senators who signed the letter represent districts with tribal lands. They feel that Noem should have consulted them before writing to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe so they could guide her response. 

“[Noem] elected, however, not to contact us and sent an ultimatum to both tribes,” they wrote in the letter. “We think a better approach is communication rather than confrontation, cooperation rather than constitutional crisis and discussion rather than demands.”

They closed the letter by encouraging Noem to find common ground with the leaders of the tribes so they can negotiate a resolution that keeps all people “healthy and safe.”

Noem’s office, however, put out an update Sunday maintaining that the checkpoints are not legal and that the matter would be taken to federal court if they are not removed. The matter remains unresolved, as neither tribe has budged.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (KNBN News Center) (Time)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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