South Dakota Freedom
South Dakota is gaining attention for its approach to Covid-19. Governor Kristi Noem, has chosen not to close businesses, mandate masks, or restrict public gatherings. She has also not disclosed what, if anything, would change her mind.
The strategy allows the South Dakota economy to keep growing. Sales tax revenues are up, and unemployment is down to 4.1%. It also allows South Dakota to post some of the highest Covid infection rates in the nation.
Unregulated large public gatherings in South Dakota kicked off with hosting President Trump for an Independence Day fireworks celebration at Mt. Rushmore. Over 7500 people attended.
Since then, South Dakota has also hosted the Sturgis Bike Rally with almost 450,000 people from across the country coming for the 10-day event. The state also hosted a national golf tournament with the support of one of the local major hospital organizations and regional sporting events for colleges and high schools. The state fair went on as usual.
Initially, Sturgis citizens had voted to cancel the motorcycle rally, but they were quickly overruled.
A Hero to Some
Governor Noem is gaining attention and campaign contributions from across the country for her open for business stance. She invites businesses and citizens to move to South Dakota and enjoy freedom from covid restrictions, state income tax, and state regulations. She is currently traveling for the Trump re-election campaign as a headline speaker. She has also used part of the Covid money to create and run tourism ads outside of South Dakota, featuring her inviting you to the state. There is a movement calling for her to run for president in 2024.
The Governor also gained notoriety as she declined the most recent federal government program to subsidize unemployment by $300, saying it was not needed. The maximum state unemployment nets to $330 per week.
Noem’s Message to South Dakota Citizens
The Governor had talked about how she developed her plan to address the pandemic when it first appeared. She participated in calls with other governors and the CDC. She noted the fear others expressed about the potential loss of life. She also consulted with legal advisors. She planned to encourage personal responsibility without government intervention.
By granting personal responsibility, citizens are left to find their way through the pandemic.
Noem told people to expect infection rates to climb. She expressed doubts about the effectiveness of masks and stated, “those who don’t want to wear a mask … shouldn’t be shamed into wearing one.” She told the 884,660 citizens of South Dakota up to 60% of them could test positive for the virus with the potential for thousands of positive results in a single day.
She also said, “put on positive pants” for an outlook on Covid. “It only affects 5% of the population”. “We have flattened the curve.” “Our hospitals are doing fine.” “If you are scared, stay home.” “I will not tell you your business is non-essential.” “My people wake up happy.”
As South Dakota ranked #1 in the nation for new infections, Governor Noem’s office reassured people this is where they expected to be. In March, they were making plans to have 10,000 people hospitalized at once. If every hospital bed in the state is counted, there are 2,700 beds. Many of these beds are in small community hospitals not rated or prepared for ICU care. Currently, the 294 ICU beds in the state, 79 are occupied by Covid patients,103 by other patients, and 112 are still available.
Open for Business State
In South Dakota, open for business means when you walk into the local bar or restaurant, odds are no one or very few of the people inside will be wearing a mask. One small college town is trying a mask mandate, but it is still sharply debated and challenged. A few retail establishments with corporate headquarters outside of the state require masks.
The state is open for business.
There are added protections with hand sanitizers more in evidence. Some people are working from home, and more meetings have moved online. Public buildings restricted access or put in special procedures. Fast food establishments have closed their dining rooms, but the drive-up windows are open. Nursing homes have limited visitors.
When the local meat processing plant became a hot spot with over 1000 infections and three deaths, it reopened two weeks later. Initial reports mandated changes inside the plant to ensure the safety of the workforce. A day later, the mandates were changed to recommendations.
Some of the people were wearing masks.
Local realtors are fielding calls from out of state people looking to move to South Dakota to escape Covid restrictions in their areas. Governor Noem recently hosted a business development event looking to bring out state businesses searching for South Dakota freedom. Her sales pitch is no income tax, low business regulations, and no Covid mandates. Thirty-five businesses were looking to relocate to South Dakota.
Through early August, low infection numbers helped support the communities’ attitude that COVID-19 was a minor flu hyped up by a political agenda.
This week the difference in a state’s approach was demonstrated by tweets from governors. As other governors tweeted their followers to take extra care due to higher infection rates, Governor Noem tweeted out the increase in tax revenue and the decrease in unemployment.
Acceptable Collateral Damage
South Dakota’s freedom comes at a price. The highest infection rate in the country, and it is still growing. As of November 1st, over 47,000 or 5.3% of all citizens have tested positive. If those people were all in one place, they would be the third-largest city in the state. 2,700 people have been hospitalized, and 421 people are currently hospitalized. 437 people are dead. Now, over 13,000 people have active infections.
The death numbers mirror the rest of the country. 87% of the deaths are from people over the age of 60. 12% of people over the age of 80 who get the virus die. 56 people died under the age of 60; of those, over 60% were minorities in state that is 83% white. It took over six months for the first 100 deaths. In the last five days, the average daily deaths reported is 12 per day.
Since the start of the pandemic, only 2700 people have been hospitalized with Covid. Only recently has the general population begun having firsthand experience with someone they know dealing with the infection. Most do not act like the infection could negatively impact them or their family.
Many people in the state do not see Covid as a severe threat.
A recent survey says 57% of likely voters in South Dakota support Governor Noem’s approach to Covid. Some cracks are starting to show in that support. Patients have been sent to hospitals out of state because local hospitals could not take care of them. Local doctors and nurses are posting warnings on social media. While there may be hospital beds available, staffing is spread thin. Medical personnel are working extra shifts and are getting stretched beyond their capacity. They ask for a mask mandate to help slow the spread and try to appeal to the general population to mask up.
The attitude in South Dakota defined by this letter to the editor of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Don’t be afraid to die from coronavirus
How about all you people afraid to live life, and victims of the media brainwashing, stay home and social distance like you are supposed to, and let the rest of us live life like we are not cattle and sheep. That mask editorial is absurd, and the majority shouldn’t have to suffer to save the very, very few. Look at the numbers, do the math and use that big beautiful brain the good lord gave you. If all these so called Christians we have in our state had any real faith, they would realize God takes care of those who trust in his will. Have faith, and if you are one of, again, the very, very few who get sick and die, maybe it was just your time to go meet her/him/it.
Matt Ellis, Sioux Falls