South Dakota’s governor gives update on record COVID-19 numbers, no statewide mask mandate

Midwest

PIERRE, S.D. (NewsNation Now) —  South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem acknowledged her state’s COVID-19 crisis Wednesday at her first coronavirus-focused news conference since July.

The state is now experiencing the second-worst rate of new cases per capita over the last two weeks in the country, with 2,089 new cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins researchers, meaning that roughly one out of every 48 people has tested positive in the last two weeks.

Noem has received criticism from health professionals because she has yet to implement a statewide mask mandate. The South Dakota State Medical Association has been urging people to voluntarily wear masks, but updated its stance to “ strongly support ” a statewide mandate.

“I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate, looking to make people feel good. I want to do good,” Gov. Noem said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Sioux Falls became the latest South Dakota city to approve a mask mandate.

According to Johns Hopkins researchers, there were 2,089 new cases per 100,000 people, meaning that roughly one out of every 48 people has tested positive in the last two weeks.

“At this point, frankly, I’m getting more concerned about how neighbors are treating neighbors and how people are treating each other in their communities,” Gov. Noem said, speaking about tensions over mask-wearing. 

Her comments come on the same day the state reported 30 new deaths from COVID-19.  Of the 674 deaths throughout the pandemic, nearly 250 deaths have been reported in the month of November alone, according to NewsNation affiliate KELO.

As of Wednesday, the state’s total case count stands at 68,671.  Total recovered cases are now at 48,757.  Active cases are at 19,240 with current hospitalizations at 593. 

Gov. Noem expressed sympathy to individuals most vulnerable to the virus, but she said there’s not been one government policy that has shown it will slow the spread of COVID-19 down.

She outlined the various ways the state is using its $1.5 billion of CARES Act money given to the state by the federal government. The money must be allocated by December 31. 

Noem said the state wants to make sure it is able to help families and businesses struggling during the pandemic. 

Some of the CARES Act money is going to pay for the K-12 Connect Program, which provides free internet service for students with distance learning.  Students would have access to the internet through June 30, 2021. The deadline to apply is this Friday, November 20. 

Noem says just under 6,000 grant applications came in for COVID-19 funds from small businesses and non-profits, but more money will be available. 

Gov. Noem also said the state government is looking to get hazard pay out to health care workers.

NewsNation affiliate KELO and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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