Noem gives update on CRF funds in South Dakota, explains her stance against mask mandates
By Shiloh Appel
On Wednesday, November 18th, 2020, Governor Kristi Noem held a press conference to discuss how federal Corona Relief Fund dollars are being spent in South Dakota and give an update on how the coronavirus is being handled in South Dakota.
During the conference, Noem said that South Dakota has received approximately 1.25 billion federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars. The deadline to spend the money is December 31st. However, Noem said she is continuing to push for more time to spend the money. So far, some of the money has gone into launching the K-12 Connect Program, which provides internet access for South Dakota children that possibly didn’t have internet access before. In order to qualify for the free program, families needed to meet income eligibility guidelines. Eligibility guidelines were recently expanded to include home school students as well. The last day of enrollment for the program was November 20th. Internet will be provided through June of 2021.
Noem also gave an update on South Dakota’s small business and health care provider grants.
“We received just under 6,000 grant applications. And that is roughly 5,100 small businesses and startups. 600 nonprofits and 200 community health and acute care providers,” said Noem. “We are also looking at ways to get hazard pay out to our health care workers…”
Noem went on to thank front-line workers, doctors, nurses, educators, farmers , truck drivers, small business owners and others across the state for their hard work during the coronavirus. She also expressed her sympathy for those who have been separated from family members who are in the vulnerable population during this time. She then gave an overview of how South Dakota has aimed to combat the virus since the beginning of its activity in the state.
“In January , the Department of Health, under the leadership of Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, launched covid.sd.gov and began providing me with weekly updates,” said Noem. “On February 10th, the DOH activated the internal EOC. On March 10th, we had our first confirmed cases and our first death. At that time, the models told us that if we didn’t take any action, that we would have 10,000 people in the hospital in the state of South Dakota due to COVID-19. We provided South Dakotans with the facts, the science and the data that was available. Then, I trusted the people of this great state to take personal responsibility and to make the best decisions they could for their families and for their loved ones. Then, in April I announced our Back to Normal plan. Since then, we have focused a lot of our time and effort on the vulnerable population.”
Noem said that 1,700 COVID tests were performed per day in August, 2,600 per day in September, and 4,800 tests per day in October. Currently, South Dakota is doing 5,800 tests per day.
“Throughout this whole period, we focused on hospital capacity. Our hospitals across the state are reporting that 33 percent of our state’s staffed hospital beds are available for those who may need it,” said Noem. “…Across the country and around the globe, cases are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states. Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is the reason that cases are rising in South Dakota and that is not true. Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true. There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states. Now some in the media are saying that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I’d encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you will see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per 1 thousand people compared to South Dakota. I’d encourage you to look at our mortality rate over the course of the pandemic. South Dakota remains below the national average and far below other states like New York and New Jersey.
I also want you to take a look at our case fatality rate. South Dakota has the seventh lowest case fatality rate in the country. Meaning that we are doing a great job taking care of people, and our frontline workers are doing their due diligence and the best that they possibly can to take care of patients who would get sick.”
During her speech, Noem placed emphasis on protecting the vulnerable population in South Dakota, such as the elderly and those with medical conditions.
“…When we look at how many [passed away that had] underlying medical conditions, 97 percent of the people that we tragically lost had underlying medical conditions and 51 percent of deaths occurred in residents of our nursing homes or assisted living facilities,” she said.
Noem encouraged South Dakotans to continue to regularly wash their hands, practice good hygiene and stay home when sick.
While fielding questions from reporters, Noem was asked repeatedly about her stance on masks. Noem reiterated that she is not in favor of placing a mask mandate on South Dakota.
“There are many states that have mask mandates in place and some that do not. If you look at Wisconsin, they have had a mask mandate since August, and they have a higher rate of spread than the state of South Dakota,” said Noem. “You look at Montana, they have had a mask mandate since July. Both of those states have a higher rate of spread than the state of South Dakota. When you look at Wyoming, it has the fastest spread in the nation…I don’t want to approach a policy or mandate just looking to make people feel good. I want to do good. And actually put forward provisions that make a difference for families.”