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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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Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission

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While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.


New Eviction Ban

Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.

Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.

However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.

According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission. 

While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.

“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday. 

Hurdles Remain

Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.

First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.

The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted. 

Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.

Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.

The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.

Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.

Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.

“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”

Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.

Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)

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Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds

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The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.


Concerns for Emperor Penguins

Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.

More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.

That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.

However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.

U.S. Moves To Protect the Species

The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.

If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.

“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.

“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)

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Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

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The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.


Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter

Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.


Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.

Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.

DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools

On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.

The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.

DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.

At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.

Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.

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

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