The people of South Dakota are my top advisors. I rely on them more than anyone to get important advice and feedback about my work in Washington. While my reliance on their expertise hasn’t changed – and it never will – the venues through which I receive it certainly has these days.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed just about everything in our day-to-day lives, not the least of which is how we stay connected with one another. Many people are now working from home, students’ classes have been canceled for the remainder of the year, and social distancing is a big part of fighting this pandemic. If you’re still getting used to all of this, you’re not alone. I’m an extremely social person, but we all need to do our part to help slow the spread and flatten the curve. The cost of inconvenience is worth it in this fight.
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last few weeks is that despite these temporary adjustments to our daily routines, Americans’ desire to remain connected has never been stronger. It’s been inspiring to see so many people who’ve used the power of technology to prevent this crisis from getting in the way of things like weddings, baby showers, classes, or even family meals. It’s amazing to see how people have adapted and made things work.
I’ve been realizing how important adapting is, too. No in-person meetings? No classroom or school assembly visits? No hopping in the car and driving from town to town? No problem. There’s a solution for all of that. I’ve been using everything from Skype to Shindig to FaceTime to Facebook Live in order to remain connected to the people of South Dakota throughout this crisis. Like I said, I still rely on your feedback to help ensure I’m doing the best job possible, especially now.
For years, I’ve used social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share information and stay connected. Last month, I hosted a Q&A session on Instagram, and I recently used Facebook Live to host a digital town hall event where I was able to answer questions about the congressional response to the coronavirus crisis in real time. I think these are valuable ways to stay connected and be responsive, so look for similar events in the near future if you’d like to participate.
I’ve been using virtual conferencing tools to hold events with statewide organizations or with local groups in places like Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Spearfish, Belle Fourche, Hot Springs, Mitchell, Watertown, and other communities. I’ve also used those tools to join a virtual town hall meeting with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to discuss the coronavirus response throughout the Dakotas. And they’ve allowed me to stay connected with folks in the South Dakota media who have helped keep our state informed throughout this crisis.
While we’ve all been affected, I feel particularly bad for students. Spring is such an awesome time of year for sports, other extracurricular activities, and graduation. I’ve used technology to drop into remoting learning sessions in real time and have also been recording short video lessons for students about how the federal government works. If you’re a South Dakota educator who would be interested in having me help with any of your lessons, please reach out to one of my offices, and we’ll try our best to get something lined up.
Aside from their ability to connect people, the one thing all of these technological tools have in common is that they require a reliable internet connection. The coronavirus crisis has underscored the urgent need to expand effective broadband access to all parts of the country since people are relying on the internet now more than ever before.
One of my top priorities in Congress is ensuring rural America isn’t left behind when it comes to advancements in fixed and mobile broadband technology. At my request, the federal agency responsible for our nation’s digital infrastructure will hopefully take meaningful steps later this month to ensure certain resources that support technology like WiFi will be more readily available as we move toward the 5G revolution in South Dakota. Every step is important.
Just because we can’t see each other face-to-face as often as usual doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected. So, as we all continue to deal with this crisis, I want you to know that my team and I are here to help. I’ve got a resources page set up on my website, which you can find at www.thune.senate.gov/COVID19, and you can always call, email, or write – or join one of my future virtual events by keeping an eye on my social media channels for updates (@SenJohnThune).