South Dakota governor says virus surge is proof of her 'Republican leadership'

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Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has allowed her state to have one of the nation's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem bragged that her state's uncontrolled coronavirus spread is a great example of "Republican leadership" on Wednesday.

Appearing on Fox News, the Republican was asked by host Laura Ingraham if critics of her laissez-faire approach to the pandemic had apologized yet.

"No apologies, Laura. But my 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 claimed. "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."

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A Noem spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

South Dakota has some of the worst coronavirus spread in the country, currently trailing only North Dakota for the highest seven-day average of new cases.

Public health experts have attributed the massive spikes and uncontrolled transmission in her state, in part, to a recent superspreader event: a giant motorcycle rally in Sturgis held in August. Nearly 500,000 bikers gathered, with little social distancing or mask-wearing — despite public health officials' warnings that it was a "recipe" for disaster.

A study published last month estimated that hundreds of cases stemmed from the rally, causing more than $12 billion in public health costs.

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

Noem herself encouraged people to attend the Sturgis event. "People have been gathering. We've been back to normal for over three months here in South Dakota," she told Fox News on August 4. "So we know we can have these events, give people information, let them protect their health but still enjoy their way of life and enjoy events like the Sturgis motorcycle rally. We hope people come."

This was typical of the way she has handled the pandemic.

She was one of just a handful of governors who refused to issue a stay-at-home order as the virus spread across the country in early 2020. As cases spiked at South Dakota's meat plants, Noem bragged that she was protecting "citizens' rights."

She has also steadfastly refused to issue a mask mandate, even as public health experts have said they are the best way to curb the coronavirus' spread.

Noem has repeatedly tried to make her nonresponse to the pandemic a sales pitch for South Dakota, urging people to move to her state.

"There's no governor in America that has trusted their people to make the right choices more than I have," she boasted in June.

In an emailed statement, a Noem spokesperson suggested that the state measures its success mostly based on hospitalization rates."Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Noem has focused on hospitalizations as our primary metric to ensure that those who need heightened levels of care receive it. Today in South Dakota, only 12.4% of our hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, and 36.8% of our hospital beds are available," her communications director wrote.

According to the South Dakota Department of Health, the state has already more than 34,000 cases — out of a population of about 885,000. At least 333 South Dakotans have died.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.