South Dakota Governor says COVID-19 response better than 'virtually every other state,' despite having overall second-highest rate of cases

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South Dakota Governor says COVID-19 response better than 'virtually every other state,' despite having overall second-highest rate of cases
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images
  • Kristi Noem said her state's pandemic response has been better than "virtually every other state."
  • The South Dakota Governor has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate.
  • For months, South Dakota was one of the riskiest states in the country in terms of COVID-19 cases.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem touted her response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a Fox News interview Tuesday night, suggesting that her state has fared better than almost all other states, despite having a higher rate of overall cases than every state but one.

One out of every 500 South Dakotans has died from COVID-19, and one in every eight residents has contracted the virus. The Midwestern state has a population of 884,659 according to a 2019 population estimate by the US Census Bureau and has had 108,431 total probable cases and 1,779 confirmed deaths since the pandemic started.

Noem detailed her approach to handling the dual health and economic crises, saying the state took "a very different path" in protecting the vulnerable while still allowing people to "put food on the table."

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"We did have tragedies and we did have losses," Noem said in the interview. "But we also got through it better than virtually every other state."

Noem, a Republican, has struck a "freedom-first" strategy, refusing to issue a statewide mask mandate and stressing the importance of protecting the state's economy.

During the November peak, South Dakota was listed as one of the 10 most dangerous states when the state's COVID test positivity rate neared 60%, the highest in the country at the time. Forbes called her one of the most "defiantly anti-mask" governors.

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Despite having the 6th smallest population in the country, South Dakota has the second-highest overall rate of coronavirus cases as of February 1, according to Statista. Since the pandemic began, the state has had 12,236 cases per 100,000 people, according to the data website. Only North Dakota had a higher rate.

South Dakota's cases and deaths have been trending downward since November, and many are hopeful the tide is turning in the once-ravaged state as vaccines become more readily available. The two Dakotas have excelled at vaccine rollout over the past few weeks.

Still, it was unclear what numbers Noem was referring to when she suggested the state had made it through the pandemic better than almost every other. And it's not the first time she's suggested the state is faring better than it really is.

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In November, as the state battled 9,000 active cases, she told Fox News, "We're doing really good in South Dakota. We're managing COVID-19, but also our economy is thriving."

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