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Opinion | Is South Dakota’s Kristi Noem the Worst Pandemic Governor?

“This is how we do social distancing in our state.” [GUN FIRING] Meet South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and her, um, unique strategy for defeating Covid. “Great.” “Less Covid, more hunting. That‘s the plan for the future.” Should we check in on how that went? “Incredibly, more people in South Dakota are testing positive than negative.” “The Sioux Falls hospitals so overwhelmed —” “The first three days has been rough.” “There‘s a lot of days that I go home and just cry.” “John died after spending 30 days in the hospital.” Last fall, South Dakota took the lead for the worst Covid state in America and the third-worst mortality rate in the entire world. The federal government gave South Dakota over $1 billion in relief funds. And the state spent $5 million of that on this. “South Dakota, the land of the free. We‘re open for opportunity, and always will be. I‘m Governor Kristi Noem. Celebrate what makes America great. And experience the great faces and great places of South Dakota.” This isn‘t Governor Noem‘s only decision to put lives at risk. We‘re going to unpack her deadly playbook for you, because she‘s a uniquely dangerous kind of politician — one who‘s reckless but sounds rational, smart but intellectually dishonest, and is willing to endanger South Dakotans just to get a few political points. Damn, she‘s going to be president someday, isn‘t she? [GROANING] Governor Noem didn‘t make a mask mandate. And with only loose, temporary Covid restrictions, it was basically a free-for-all for restaurants, churches and businesses. But she did make more ads. See if you can spot the common theme in these, both released during the pandemic. “In our state, you won‘t find the restrictions that hold companies back in other places. When the time is right for you, our great places are open for adventure. If you value our approach to reducing government and increasing personal freedom, we‘d love to have you come join us.” In Noem‘s world, restrictions become inconveniences that hold companies back instead of safety measures to protect the population. Adventure and personal freedom are more important than sacrifices that might save lives. It all honestly sounds pretty nice during a pandemic. Here‘s a place where you can have fun and make money. “We welcome your group to bring your meeting, convention or sports tournament to the Mount Rushmore state.” So South Dakota hosted one large gathering after another. “The crowded Sturgis Motorcycle Rally rolls on in South Dakota, with thousands packing the streets there.” That rally happened right about here, just before that huge spike in cases. “We hope people come. Our economy benefits when people come and visit us.” Three months later, South Dakota ranked as the No. 1 riskiest state to visit. I wonder how that impacted their economy. [GUN FIRING] “We turned to the science, to the data and to the facts to get a handle on what was happening on the ground here in South Dakota.” Governor Noem loves saying ‘science and data,’ but let‘s listen to what she‘s actually claiming as fact. “We all know that the science tells us we cannot stop this virus.” [BUZZING] China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore — these places all have such low infection rates that people are living normal lives. “The few things we know about this virus is that density is one of the key factors contributing to the spread.” [BUZZING] Density doesn‘t affect Covid rates. After all, being a rural state hasn‘t protected South Dakota from a huge Covid surge. “Wash your hands. Monitor yourself for symptoms. And stay home if you are sick.” Sounds reasonable, right? But listen again and pay attention to what she doesn‘t say. “Wash your hands.” This would have been a good time to also recommend wearing a mask for a virus we know spreads through the air. “Monitor yourself for symptoms.” No mention of the fact that 40 percent of people with Covid don‘t have symptoms. “And stay home if you are sick.” This is obvious to the point of being meaningless. This is what makes Governor Noem so savvy and scary. She doesn‘t insult experts or tell people to inject themselves with bleach. She just says all the right science-y words while ignoring mainstream science advice. [GUN FIRING] “Governor, you need to encourage all of the mitigating strategies that even have the potential, including masks. We need to change course. I‘m begging you.” Watch Noem‘s response to that. “Well, I‘ve consistently said that people that want to wear masks should wear masks and people who don‘t shouldn‘t be shamed because they choose not to. People can use their own personal responsibility to make a decision when it comes to masks.” Noem uses words like ‘want’ and ‘choose’ on purpose. She‘s making it seem like she‘s giving you freedom. But public health isn‘t personal responsibility. It‘s her job. She‘s the one who‘s supposed to make tough decisions. But she‘s offloading that responsibility onto ordinary people and making it sound like she‘s doing them a favor. “My people are happy. They‘re happy because they‘re free.” In just three easy steps, Noem has taken South Dakota from here to here. But most South Dakotans seem to like her. Her approval rating actually rose in 2020. And cases have now started falling. But South Dakota‘s death rate is still one of the worst in the country. But hey, at least she knows how to make a good promo. “I‘m South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. There‘s no place in America like South Dakota, because our state celebrates freedom like none other. While you‘re here, you‘ll experience our world-class hospitality and our outstanding facilities.” “The last three days has been rough.” “Our quality of life is unmatched.” “John died after spending 30 days in the hospital.” “It‘s also the best place to live, work and play.” “There‘s a lot of days that I go home and just cry.” “Governor Noem, the people are suffering.” “We‘d love to have you come join us.” [MUSIC PLAYING]

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