Claws are out for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), a rising star in the Republican Party, over her handling of the Chinese coronavirus in her state — particularly for allowing citizens to enjoy more freedoms and earn a living during the pandemic. Blue states, on the other hand, continue to implement lockdown orders and stringent restrictions, barring their residents from many basic activities while largely failing to quell the second wave of the virus.
Establishment media outlets have targeted the Republican governor over her approach to the Wuhan virus. She refused to impose draconian orders as other governors, such as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), have over the past year, shuttering “nonessential” businesses and heavily restricting basic activities. Cuomo even specifically outlined limits on gatherings at personal residences.
Like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has also received a steady stream of criticism from the establishment media for his handling of the pandemic, Noem took what she described as a “unique” approach, prioritizing personal freedom and the right to earn a living while focusing on protecting the most vulnerable. South Dakota did not issue a sweeping mask mandate, stay-at-home orders, or mass restrictions. Other states, Noem said, have used fear to “control” people.
“I really think it’s about control,” Noem said during an appearance Tuesday on the Ingraham Angle. “They have used for the last year fear to control people. And in South Dakota, we just took a very different path.”
“We knew the science told us we couldn’t stop the virus,” she continued. “We could slow it down and protect people who might be vulnerable and make sure we had enough hospital capacity to take care of those who would need it.”
But Noem explained that the state tried to strike a delicate balance because allowing people to take care of their families and “still put food on the table” had to remain a top priority as well. That idea is something Democrats — whether knowingly or unknowingly — have also acknowledged, merely by recognizing the existence of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic-related orders and lockdowns, as well as the mental health crisis that has taken center stage as a result of the restrictions.
“So that was a unique approach that for our people really worked well. We did have tragedies and we did have losses, but we also got through it better than virtually every other state,” Noem told Ingraham while recognizing the ire her approach has drawn from the establishment media.
“And I think the media hates that because it really is a testimony to what Republicans believe in, what we conservatives believe in. We implemented what we always say we believe, and it showed that it really does work and bring more opportunities to families,” she said.
South Dakota fared well at the start of the pandemic but experienced a surge in the fall as the second wave of the virus struck the U.S., which “pushed the state also near the top of the list in coronavirus deaths per capita,” as Breitbart News reported. The increase has led to mounting criticisms from progressives desperate to blast her approach, even as blue states with some of the most stringent rules in the country faced spikes of the virus. South Dakota’s cases appeared to peak in November, putting it at the front end of the second wave, as cases are seeing a downward trend.
On January 12, the U.S. reported more than 4,000 deaths, which were labeled a record for the “most Covid-19 deaths reported in one day since the start of the pandemic” at the time. This, notably, occurred after South Dakota’s drastic spike in cases. As Breitbart News reported in November, the U.S. as a whole saw the Wuhan virus soaring to record levels despite the bulk of states embracing sweeping mask mandates, many of which had been in effect for months.
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, the state reported 141 new cases of the virus on Thursday with 2,552 active cases. While nearly 97,000 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the virus, fewer than 6,400 have been hospitalized in the state, which has fewer than 900,000 residents.
Still, the establishment media have been eager to demonize Noem’s approach. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump mocked Noem’s tactics — specifically her prioritization of personal freedom — in a piece published this week.
“South Dakota’s ‘unique approach’ over the course of the year was to shrug at mandated stay-at-home orders and to prioritize ‘personal freedom’ over mandates to wear face coverings, which had been shown to slow the spread of the virus,” he wrote, mentioning the fact that Noem also hosted former President Trump’s Fourth of July event at Mount Rushmore last year with what he described as “little evidence of precautionary measures in place”:
South Dakota ended 2020 with the second-highest number of population-adjusted coronavirus infections in the country. One out of every 9 residents had contracted the virus, and 1 out of every 600 had died of it. The only states where the death toll per capita were higher were Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota and Rhode Island. Four of those states were slammed at the beginning of the pandemic, when New York City was the epicenter of infections and deaths.
“The two Dakotas surged to the top of the list months later — after preventive measures were better understood,” he added, seemingly excusing the blue spikes to their purported ignorance of proper preventative measures at the time.
Business Insider, Newsweek, and MSNBC have repeated the same criticisms, pointing to the per capital data of cases and fatalities in South Dakota, the latter of which stood at 1,782 as of Thursday.
“South Dakota has the sixth-worst death rate per capita in the nation,” Newsweek reported.
“One out of every 500 South Dakotans has died from COVID-19, and one in every eight residents has contracted the virus,” Business Insider added in a February 3 article.
February 3 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, shows blue states with heavy restrictions, such as New York, reporting a higher number of cases per 100,000 in the last seven days. New York State’s data, which notably excludes New York City, shows the state reporting 53.1 cases per 100,000 in the last seven days. New York City alone, which has some of the strictest restrictions in the country, has reported 60.2 cases per 100,000 in the last seven days. South Dakota has reported 17 cases per 100,000 in the last seven days.
As the major focus continues to switch to vaccine distribution and administration, South Dakota stands as a leader, distributing 147,600 doses, or 16,684 per 100,000, and administering 110,967, or 12,543 per 100,000, per the CDC’s February 3 data. That surpasses New York State per 100,000, which has distributed 16,661 vaccines per 100,000 and administered 10,297 per 100,000.
South Dakota is also shining economically, tied with Nebraska for the lowest unemployment rate in the country as the nation continues its economic recovery caused by the mass lockdowns. New York and California are among the top five states with the worst unemployment rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That could be a contributing factor to South Dakota’s status as one of the “top in bound states,” as blue states continue to experience mass exoduses. All the while, South Dakota is enjoying a budget surplus, allowing it to better make targeted investments, including a proposed “one-time investment of $11 million to serve as a bridge for schools facing financial shortfalls after drops in enrollment due to the coronavirus.”
“Even amid a pandemic, public policy ought to be holistic,” Noem said during her December budget address. “Daily needs must still be met. People need to eat and keep a roof over their heads. And they still need purpose.”
“That means policymakers cannot have tunnel vision. They must balance public health concerns with people’s mental and emotional needs, their economic livelihoods and social connections, and liberty, among many other important factors,” she added.