We will get through this together

OPINION — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s public service announcements during the COVID pandemic have consistently said that “We will get through this together.”

But it seems that until this week, the governor has been mostly absent from our togetherness.

On Wednesday, for the first time since July, Noem held a news conference to discuss COVID-19 as the virus continues to ravage our state. Just this week, we surpassed 700 COVID deaths in South Dakota.

It’s not that we need hand holding during tough times, but it would have been comforting to know that our governor was, as she has professed in her PSAs, “together” with us.

By definition, together means: With or in proximity to another person or people; or into companionship or close association.

We don’t begrudge her for campaigning for Donald Trump. After all, Noem is an up-and-coming star in the Republican party. But she should at least acknowledge that the pandemic is raging and, although it is a scary time, she should step up and tell the people of this great state, like she means it, “we will get through this together.”

Instead, she spent weeks on the campaign trail for Trump going to Minnesota, to the east coast and back again.

Then, when asked about her absence, or questions concerning COVID and our state’s response to it, she has been evasive. In mid-October, Noem did offer the Rapid City Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader an exclusive in publishing an op-ed updating South Dakotans on the state’s COVID-19 situation.

The Journal published it, the Argus Leader did not, questioning some of its validity. In the Argus Leader’s response to the governor as to their refusal said: In this case, however, we want to be sure that we’re providing reliable information (backed by CDC guidelines) to our readers during a public health crisis, especially with South Dakota among the states hardest hit. In the realm of science and pandemic response, “both sides” doesn’t always apply.”

Then, in a letter to all media outlets in the state, Noem’s Senior Advisor & Policy Director Maggie Seidel wrote about the Argus Leader refusal: “In short, the state’s highest elected official wanted to share an update on the COVID-19 situation with the people of South Dakota, but the editors of our largest paper don’t want you to see it.” 

We want open and honest dialogue from our governor. We want to know that she sees how concerned we are, how fatigued we are and how sad we are to know that our fellow South Dakotas who have lost loved ones are heartbroken.

Noem said at one of the Trump rallies, while COVID infections and deaths were skyrocketing in the state, that “My people are happy. They’re happy because they are free.” She was referring to no stay-at-home order or other mandates enacted by her during the pandemic.

Chief among the “other” mandates is a mask mandate. It’s a polarizing topic, as seen Thursday night at a special Rapid City Common Council meeting. Rapid City did approve first reading of a mask mandate ordinance on a 6-5 vote, and Spearfish is considering such a mandate.

South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson gets it. In a PSA released Tuesday, Johnson said schools and healthcare workers are stressed and it is more important than ever to control the spread of the coronavirus.

He said that South Dakotans have always believed in personal responsibility. Johnson is asking that people remember the three Ws – wash your hands, watch your distance and wear a mask.

“If we all step up, we will be able to keep our state healthy, our schools open and our economy growing,” he said.

So what we are asking you today is, in the absence of true leadership at the governor’s office, #MaskUp SoDak.

#MaskUp SoDak is an awareness campaign launched in late October and promoted by the South Dakota State Medical Association and supported by Monument Health, Sanford Health, and Avera Health among numerous other health, civic, municipal, and educational organizations.

This group supports keeping South Dakota open, and the safest way to do that is to practice good hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks.

KELO.com News asked South Dakota State Medical Association President Dr. Benjamin Aaker why the group stopped short of asking for a mask mandate.

“This group feels that the best way to get the most people to wear their mask appropriately is by communicating with them directly,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all Americans over the age of two wear masks in public.

Care enough about your family and your neighbors to wear a mask and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Because as the governor has said: “We will get through this together.”

Pioneer Editorial Board

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