Anti-mask governor brags her state is only second worst for COVID

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Gov. Kristi Noem has made her lack of pandemic response a marketing pitch for South Dakota.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem bragged this week that her state does not have the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita.

It has the second highest number.

At a Wednesday press conference, the Republican scolded the press for its coverage of her state's uncontrolled pandemic spread.

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"Now, some in the media are saying that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I’d encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center," she told reporters. "There you’ll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per 100,000/1,000 people compared to South Dakota."

A local television station's fact-check on Thursday determined that Noem's claim was partially right: Just one state — neighboring North Dakota — has a higher rate of new confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins data.

For months, South Dakota has been the worst or near worst state in the country, as far as per capita cases.

But as the pandemic has overwhelmed the state, Noem has refused to take action to curb it. She was one of a handful of governors who never issued any state-at-home order, claiming to be standing up for "citizens' rights."

She has bucked public health experts' recommendations of a statewide mask mandate, calling it a "personal decision" and frequently sharing pictures of herself unmasked and close to others.

"Unfortunately, the spread of #COVID19 is rising in nearly every state, regardless of if they have mask mandates in place," she misleadingly tweeted on Tuesday. "Here in South Dakota, we’re focusing on solutions that DO good, not on responses that FEEL good." A New York Times analysis this week found clear evidence that states with the fewest safety rules — like South Dakota — have the worst outbreaks.

In August, Noem encouraged people to travel to Sturgis, South Dakota, for a massive annual motorcycle rally — even though medical experts urged its cancellation, calling it a "recipe" for disaster. The event drew hundreds of thousands, with few masks and little social distancing.

As predicted, the rally became a superspreader event. One study estimated that by September, it had already caused over $12 billion in public health costs from new coronavirus cases.

"This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend," its authors noted.

Last month, Noem went on Fox News to claim that, despite the uncontrolled virus, her state was a great example of "Republican leadership."

"[M]y people are happy. They appreciated the fact that we didn't shut down their businesses, we allowed them to be flexible, take care of health, and protect the public — while still taking care of their customers and employees as well. So we're doing good [sic] in South Dakota. We're managing COVID-19," she falsely told the network. "But also our economy is thriving. I think people are recognizing that leadership has consequences and what we're doing in South Dakota is Republican leadership."

In June, Noem tried to use her nonresponse to the virus as a selling point for South Dakota, suggesting people move to her state because of the lack of safety rules. "There's no governor in America that has trusted their people to make the right choices more than I have," she argued.

At least 65,499 South Dakotans have contracted the coronavirus so far — with 705 deaths. The state's population is just under 885,000, according to a July 2019 Census Bureau estimate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.