South Dakota’s Noem defends forgoing masks as virus surges

“Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in South Dakota, and that is not true,” Noem said.

Noem said she wears a mask when “appropriate,” though she frequently posts photos of herself on social media without one, despite her proximity to others. She said she doesn’t believe her powers as governor allow her to issue a mask mandate.

“We talk often about the government’s role in a situation like this in dealing with a pandemic,” Noem said, “At this point, frankly, I’m getting more concerned about how neighbors are treating neighbors.”

She pointed to other states in the region with mask m andates, such as Wisconsin and Montana, that have a higher rate of daily new cases per capita. South Dakota ranks in the top seven states for the metric. And in the last two weeks, the numbers of confirmed new cases and deaths per capita in the state have been the second-highest in the country, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

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The number of COVID-19 deaths has skyrocketed in recent weeks. Health officials have reported 259 deaths in November — about a third of the state’s total death toll over the course of the pandemic.

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The only state with worse death and new case rates, North Dakota, on Friday issued a statewide mask mandate and limited the size of gatherings in businesses.

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