South Dakota governor uses video to vaunt COVID-19 response
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday took to social media to vaunt her response to the coronavirus pandemic and pitch herself as a leading conservative governor.
Throughout the pandemic, Noem, a Republican, has held regular press briefings, taking questions from reporters. On Monday, she instead posted a nearly-nine minute video in which Noem said she has prioritized “freedom,” but claimed the “mainstream media” has attacked her for doing so.
“More freedom, not more government is the answer,” Noem said.
While the sparsely-populated and Republican-dominated state of South Dakota may be an afterthought in many national political conversations, Noem has courted attention from both conservative pundits and President Donald Trump, including seeking political advice from his former campaign-manager Corey Lewandowski.
She has stuck to some of the most lax regulations of any governor to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and has often contrasted her hands-off approach to places like New York or New Jersey. Recently, she began positioning herself as a leading conservative governor, using the line: “There’s no governor in America that has trusted their people to make the right choices more than I have.”
The approach has earned her attention from both conservative and liberal national media outlets. In the video, she also claimed its drawn the attention of common Americans. At a time when many governors are cautiously reopening, Noem boasted how the state’s Black Hills region has been filled with out-of-state tourists. She welcomed people and businesses to move to the state, returning to a message that was a priority before the pandemic.
“If you want freedom, personal responsibility and a government that works for you, rather than dictates to you, South Dakota is the place to get it,” the governor said.
She also shifted her messaging on her strategy for the coronavirus. During the pandemic, Noem said repeatedly that she was using the “data, facts and science” to guide her decision-making. But in the video, Noem called out leaders from other states, saying, “A blind reliance on insufficient modeling has led some governor’s to enact disastrous lock downs.”
But Noem’s actions during the pandemic have not been devoid of controversy. Sanford Health announced it was discontinuing a state-backed trial of the anti-malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine on Friday. When Noem announced the trial in April, she said she had worked with the White House to get it up and running.
The governor also escalated a dispute with two Native American tribes, at one point threatening to sue them over coronavirus checkpoints they had set up on federal and state highways to prevent unnecessary visitors to reservations. She backed away from that threat and the tribes are still operating the checkpoints.
So far, the state’s hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been far below what Noem projected. She initially estimated the state would need 5,000 hospital beds by mid-June, but she later cut that number by more than half. On Monday, state health officials reported that 92 people were currently hospitalized by COVID-19. Noem said the model helped the state be prepared for a “worst case scenario.”
Health officials also reported 33 new COVID-19 cases. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the state stands at 5,471. No new deaths were confirmed, leaving the statewide total at 65.
State epidemiologist Josh Clayton said there is a new cluster of 52 infections at the Dakota Provisions poultry plant in Huron. Meat processing plants have produced clusters of infections in the state, with the largest coming from a Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls in April. 853 employees at the plant had confirmed infections, according to the Department of Health.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.