The Washington Post is trying to pin a recent spike in coronavirus cases in South Dakota on the state’s Republican governor for refusing to implement a one-size-fits-all policy in the form of a statewide shelter in place order as others have across the country.
On Monday, the Post ran an article titled, “South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots,” while prominently featuring a photo of the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, reminiscent of Newsweek’s famous 2011 cover of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Yet South Dakota is no hot spot for the novel Wuhan coronavirus sweeping the nation.
As of Wednesday evening, the state has seen fewer than 1,000 cases in total and six deaths attributed to the virus, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. That makes rural South Dakota the 10th state from the least number of cases in the entire country even while remaining just one of five whose governor has refrained from issuing shelter in place orders. Other low-spread states include North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas.
The Washington Post centered on an outbreak of the virus shutting down the world’s largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, after hundreds of employees became infected. The paper attempted to use this to convict Noem for the absence of any government-mandated order to stay home.
More than 300 workers have now tested positive for the virus, according to the Washington Post, making about one-third of the state’s total cases. Meanwhile, almost 800 of the state’s total 988 cases have been reported in Minnehaha County, where Sioux Falls is located, with many of those likely connected to the plant.
Even if Noem had directed the state’s residents to stay home, the order still would not have kept the outbreak in the meat processing plant from occurring, as food production workers are considered essential workers needed to keep supply chains resilient through the crisis. The Smithfields Foods plant produces 18 million servings of pork every day.
Instead of using her executive authority to force people home, Noem has dismissed calls to repeat what other states have done to control the virus as “herd mentality,” while arguing citizens are more responsible than the government for keeping themselves and others safe.
“The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety,” Noem said during a March press conference. “They are free to exercise their rights to work, to worship and to play or to even stay home or to conduct social distancing.”
Although stopping short of a government-mandated quarantine, Noem has still proactively combatted the virus, beginning state preparations as early as January and shutting down schools this month. State models show with current social distancing measures in place absent a statewide shelter in place order, the peak of infections will be cut in half.
On Monday, Noem also announced that South Dakota would be the first in the country to begin statewide clinical trials for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for the virus. Noem secured enough of the medication from the federal government for every hospitalized patient and health care provider in the state.
“From Day 1, we’ve based our decisions on the science, facts, and data of the situation on the ground in South Dakota,” Noem told The Federalist. “Smithfield is a critical infrastructure industry in our nation’s food supply, and we are committed to working with them to get through this.”
The meat-processing plant is expected to re-open in the near future.