Governor Kristi Noem is digging in her heels. And so are we.
She has refused to put forth a statewide stay-at-home order for South Dakota, despite the knowledge that cases of COVID-19 are rising exponentially, just like everywhere else. There is nothing unique about our state when it comes to falling victim to a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease.
Rather than offer firm leadership to slow the rate of spread, allowing more time for testing and medical resources to meet increasing demand, Noem is placing the onus on individuals (and municipalities) to make good choices amid one of the worst public health emergencies in our nation’s history.
Whether for political reasons or lack of understanding, she resists the notion that South Dakotans want a firm hand and consistent message in a crisis, which means closing non-essential businesses, ordering and enforcing stay-at-home measures and taking a hard look at travel restrictions and how they can be implemented.
Passing the buck in any executive role is shaky. Doing it during a public health emergency is dangerous. When Noem talked Friday about people who “won’t get better,” she meant people who will die.
And so we’ll continue to push back, demanding that the governor look outside her bubble at what is happening around her. If she doesn’t want to listen to us, there are plenty of other voices.
Listen to governors and other officials from 45 states that have issued stay-at-home orders to protect citizens and buy more time for testing and hospital space. Or take the word of Anthony Fauci, the national face and voice of reliable information, who has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health for 35 years. Or to Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle, who said Friday “now more than ever is the time to double down on staying at home.”
Until testing is more efficient and broadly available, containment is impossible. It’s all about mitigation, and the notion that citizens will “self-police” themselves is both unrealistic and unfair to those they might endanger. Hourly inconvenience and lack of public gatherings are already part of our temporary world, so why not take action to make sure these changes are adopted in a clear and consistent manner?
It is only a matter of time before the facts, science and data force the governor’s hand in a more responsible direction, as it has in other states. Georgia governor Brian Kemp finally issued a stay-at-home order this week, explaining that it was “recently” discovered that the virus can be spread by people who are not exhibiting symptoms.
That information has been widely known for months, but it didn’t stop Florida governor Ron DeSantis from delaying a shutdown in his state until spring breakers had filled the beaches and moved on to all corners of the country. We’re still waiting on Noem, who has seen numbers rise while bickering back and forth with the mayors of Sioux Falls and Rapid City over what emergency powers are possessed by whom.
There has been too much focus on “peak,” as if anyone has any idea when that will be. The data remains flawed, which is obvious from the huge variance of projections for how many state residents will become infected – from 265,000 to 600,000. The idea that we string this thing out too far by taking stronger action sounds like a message-board talking point more than a science-based evaluation.
We need to try to stay ahead of the virus, if that’s possible, to allow for a time when testing allows health officials to identify carriers, isolate them and do contact tracing. That will allow a gradual easing of social restrictions, not merely the ebb and flow of a chart based on speculative numbers.
Even those who worship at the altar of “personal liberties” want to see strong leadership when lives are at stake. They want messages of hope, sure, but also admonitions of responsibility and sacrifice. They want to hear what the plan is.
It is too late to look back at preventative measures as a softening blow to our state. But it’s not yet too late to use every power at our disposal to fight back against an invisible enemy and win.
Data and science have made it clear that South Dakota is not unique in the way the virus infiltrates our borders. Let us at least be proud of the way we pulled together to fight back.
The Argus Leader Editorial Board consists of Argus Leader News Director Cory Myers, Argus Leader Editor Stu Whitney and community member Sharon Schulz-Elsing.
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