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COLUMN: Rising to the Challenge Together

Rising to the Challenge Together

by Kim Malsam-Rysdon, Secretary of Health

April 7, 2020


As South Dakotans, taking care of each other isn’t just something we do, it is who we are. The need to care for each other holds our families together and brings out the best in our communities. Caring begins with knowing and relating to how others feel. And the feelings our families and households are facing right now are all over the place. They may include anger, compassion, apathy, generosity, kindness, anxiety, fear and even selfishness. It’s important to know all of these feelings are acceptable and ok.


We are living during an unprecedented time and uncharted decisions are being made. Our response to COVID has been based on facts and science and is rapidly evolving.  There’s no play book. But the one thing that has been constant is the team of public health workers concerned about the needs of every person in our state. They are servant leaders who have been working tirelessly to put their fellow neighbors first. It is heartwarming to see how hard they are working.  Governor Noem has wholeheartedly supported the public health response to COVID-19 in our state. This week, during National Public Health Week, we recognize the contributions of public health workers in our state and across the country. And we appreciate the recognition and support you have poured out to us. Our awesome team continues to work around the clock and around the state because, frankly, so are you.


Thank you to the health care workers, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers, gas station attendants, day care providers and many other individuals who go to work with a brave heart and a warm smile without giving it a second thought.  Thank you to businesses who have figured out ways to continue to operate while ensuring people aren’t at risk of being exposed.


Thank you to the leaders of our health care systems who are planning ahead to make sure they can take care of the people who will need it.


Thank you to churches and fellowship leaders across the state who have wisely moved services and activities online. Thanks to you, many in our communities will not risk being exposed during their times of worship.


To the businesses who have had to close, I know this was not your choice. You didn’t want to have to lay off employees or lock your doors. The routine services you provide in each of the communities across the state are part of our daily lives. No one wanted to see this happen and we continue to thank you for your contributions to our great state.


Lastly, a big thank you to South Dakotans for listening and staying calm. By staying home, social distancing, washing your hands, reducing exposure and doing the right thing, you have made a commitment to help slow the spread of COVID-19. And because you are listening, you are making a difference.


We are not through this yet. As Governor Noem has said, this is a marathon and not a sprint. But, I can promise you that my team at the state health department is committed to working hard until we are on the downward side of this curve. And when that happens, we will work some more because of you, your thoughtfulness and your support. You are the priority. Your loved ones, your friends and your neighbors are the people that my team and I care about too.


I will close with this. A couple of weeks ago, I was very tired. My team was tired. People close to me were feeling stressed out. And then my assistant showed me a card I had received in the mail. It was a handwritten thank you note from Roger and Linda Sandness. Linda thanked me and my team for the tough decisions we have been having to make. She didn’t have to do that, but she did it because she cared. And on the cover of that note there was a definition of teamwork defined by Margaret Mead. It read “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


And we will continue to do just that.


So thank you, South Dakota, for not only recognizing our hard work and efforts to slow this virus, but for joining us.