South Dakota governor’s response to coronavirus spurned by national consensus

by WorldTribune Staff, April 16, 2020

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is one of the few who have resisted ordering a lockdown amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety,” Noem, a Republican, said. “They are the ones that are entrusted with expansive freedoms.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. / YouTube

But when 300 workers at a South Dakota pork-processing plant fell ill with the virus, one of the largest single coronavirus clusters in the U.S., the media pounced.

The usual players — CNN, NBC News, The Washington Post — questioned why Noem had not fallen in lockstep with other governors in issuing stay-at-home orders.

On April 14, Noem reiterated that she will not issue a statewide lockdown order. She also noted that the outbreak at the pork plant, operated by Smithfield Foods, is not exactly proof of the value of lockdowns.

“I’ve seen some national stories written that a shelter-in-place would have prevented this outbreak at Smithfield,” Noem said. “That is absolutely false. It is not true.”

The plant “would have been up and running” regardless of a stay-at-home order, the governor said.

“It is exempted as an essential business part of our critical infrastructure plan to make sure we can put food on the table for Americans and people across the world,” Noem said.

In an April 15 report for the Wall Street Journal, James Freeman noted: “The press is heaping scorn upon” Noem “because she hasn’t imposed the blunt instrument of lockdown on her constituents. Time will tell if virus mortality in the Mount Rushmore State reaches the levels in states run by lockdown media stars.”

South Dakota’s coronavirus death toll remained at six on April 16. No new deaths have been reported in more than a week.

“As the curve has flattened in a number of areas, lockdown governors are teasing a reopening of their economies at undetermined future dates conditioned on improvements in testing capability and other vaguely defined factors,” Freeman wrote. “It remains unclear whether the economy-busting lockdowns have prevented or merely delayed infections. Details have been scarce on how post-lockdown societies will function until the availability of vaccines and new therapies.”

But, Freeman added, “media skepticism is generally reserved only for officials who deviate from the establishment consensus.”

On April 11, Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: “As governors across the country fell into line in recent weeks, South Dakota’s top elected leader stood firm: There would be no statewide order to stay home. Such edicts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Kristi L. Noem said disparagingly, reflected a ‘herd mentality.’ It was up to individuals — not government — to decide whether ‘to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.’ And besides, the first-term Republican told reporters at a briefing this month, ‘South Dakota is not New York City.’ ”

Instead of a full lockdown, Noem has issued executive orders for particular counties instructing elderly and other high-risk citizens to stay home. She has also instructed all citizens to follow guidelines on hygiene and social distancing and calls the virus battle “a marathon, not a sprint.”

Freeman noted that Noem’s approach “sounds eminently reasonable — seeking to protect life and also the liberty and prosperity that sustain it.”

The governor recently announced: “We unveiled a new tool for South Dakotans to use to help fight the spread of the virus as well. Many South Dakotans have already downloaded the Care 19 app, which will empower individuals to do their part by providing accurate and timely information to assist the Department of Health’s contact tracing efforts. South Dakota is the second state in the nation to adopt this new technology.”

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton said South Dakota is still doing contact tracing for each new positive coronavirus case as a way to contain the spread, but the state is projecting that a minimum of 30 percent of the its population will contract the virus.

“Even with all of those pieces, we do anticipate that our numbers will continue to rise in the state, not unlike what other states in the nation are experiencing at this time and we are focused on preventing cases as best we can,” Clayton said.

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