PIERRE — Don’t expect a mask mandate from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
“I can’t tie consistently a policy that a government put forward that really made a big difference, especially when it comes to masks and slowing down the rate of spread,” she said during a news conference Wednesday.
Noem said she would like to see science and data concerning the wearing of masks that prove they slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“When they have put forth a mask mandate, but there is no enforcement then it’s just really a suggestion, and is that any different than what we have been telling everybody for months,” she said.
Later Wednesday, state epidemiologist Josh Clayton sent an email to healthcare providers underlining that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks and that “experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread” of the coronavirus.
In South Dakota, Sioux Falls, Huron and Mitchell recently passed ordinances requiring masks. Brookings passed a mask mandate earlier this year and recently extended its mask mandate for another 60 days. The Rapid City Common Council will vote on a mask mandate at its meeting Thursday night. A ordinance and resolution has been drafted for the Spearfish City Council to consider.
Groups representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, school administrators and businesses launched a joint effort to promote mask-wearing late last month. Those groups include: The South Dakota State Medical Association, Monument Health based in Rapid City, Avera Health and Sanford Health based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Municipal League, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, Associated School Boards of South Dakota, School Administrators of South Dakota and the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board
Noem said that despite the surge in COVID-19 cases statewide she believes residents are taking personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe.
She said there are different mitigation efforts that people can choose to pursue such as social distancing and hand washing, but ultimately she encourages residents to make wise decisions to protect their family’s health, and to take care of others in their community.
Noem said she is concerned about how neighbors are treating neighbors within the state, specifically when it comes to mask wearing.
“I’m continuing to ask for respect,” the governor said. “You may choose to wear a mask and be concerned about the virus. If people choose not to (wear a mask), we still should treat them with respect and understand that they are making a personal decision.”
Noem believes South Dakotans can take a different approach to the mask debate which is playing out across the country.
“We need to remember we are all human beings and we all appreciate each other, and even though we are dealing with a pandemic, we can get through this together,” she said.
Noem said she is encouraging schools to keep children in classrooms as much as they possibly can. When students were out of the classroom and learning remotely last spring because of the pandemic they were found to be underperforming in the areas of reading and math, she said.
“That’s not helping our kids be successful in their education moving forward,” Noem said.
Chief among concerns for the state currently during this surge in COVID-19 cases is making sure healthcare providers have the staff they need to carry out their mission, Noem said.
“I think they are challenged with staff members who may have caught the virus or have been exposed to someone who has caught the virus, and that leaves them short-handed during their shifts,” she said.
The state has been in regular contact with those providers about how they can help.
Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said staff in health care, even before the pandemic, has been an issue in the state.
“It certainly is exacerbated when we have a situation like COVID,” she said.
Malsam-Rysdon lauded the performance of health care workers and the administration of health care providers for stepping up day after day.
“That’s what we do in South Dakota. We roll our sleeves up and get the job done. I can’t say enough about the good work the health care community is doing in our state,” she said.
The South Dakota Department of Health reported 30 new COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday.
Across western South Dakota, there were four deaths each reported in Lawrence and Oglala Lakota counties, and one each reported out of Butte, Custer and Pennington counties.
New cases Wednesday totaled 1,387 with 296 of those probable. Active cases soared back up over 19,000 to 19,240 and hospitalizations also increased by 11 to 593 Wednesday.
COVID-19 patients account for 47.5% of I.C.U. beds statewide and 35.1% across the Black Hills healthcare system. Available adult I.C.U. beds across the Black Hills remain low at 16.2%.
New cases across West River totaled 459 with Pennington County accounting for the most with 226. Pennington County has 7,385 total cases with 2,148 remaining active.
Meade County added 39 new cases today sending the total to 1,504 with 372 active.
Lawrence County recorded 35 new cases, giving them a total of 1,725 with 515 active.
Twelve new cases were reported in Butte County where the cumulative total hit 633 with 178 active.
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