GOP governor says she's protecting 'citizens' rights' by letting virus spread


South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has refused to issue a stay-at-home order, saying people are 'primarily responsible' for their own safety.

South Dakota's Kristi Noem is one of a handful of Republican governors who have refused to issue stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19. As of Monday, her state has more than 860 confirmed cases, with more than 650 of them in the populous Sioux Falls area.

More than 300 of those cases involve workers at a Smithfield Foods pork processing facility, according to the Washington Post. The cluster, one of the nation's largest, forced the company to close the plant indefinitely on Sunday. The facility is responsible for more than 4% of the nation's pork production.

Despite the growing outbreak in her state, Noem has continued to spurn calls for a stay-at-home order.

"South Dakota is not New York City," Noem said at an April 1 press conference, explaining why she would not mandate that most residents stay home to promote social distancing. "The calls to apply for a one-size-fits-all approach to this problem is herd mentality."

Noem suggested that actions to "limit citizens' rights" violate the federal and state constitutions. "The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety," she said. "They are the ones that are entrusted with expansive freedoms. They're free to exercise their rights to work, to worship, and to play. Or to even stay at home, or to conduct social distancing."

"Our sense of personal responsibility, our resiliency and our already sparse population density put us in a great position to manage the spread of this virus without needing to resort to some of the measures that we've seen in some of these major cities, coastal cities and in other countries," Noem said.

But that approach has not worked. Noting that the metro Sioux Falls area now has more cases per capita than even the Seattle area, Paul TenHaken, the city's Republican mayor, asked Noem over the weekend to at least issue a stay-at-home order for his community for the next three weeks.

"A shelter-in-place order is needed now. It is needed today," TenHaken said at a Monday briefing.

So far, Noem has not issued an order.

Though Noem continues to leave it up to the people to decide whether to take steps to curb the coronavirus' spread, she apparently believed the situation was critical enough to close schools in the state last month and direct state employees to work from home. She declared a state of emergency on March 13 and received a federal "major disaster" declaration on April 5, giving South Dakota access to a significant amount of federal support through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.