Gov. Kristi Noem has taken an unconventional approach to the COVID-19 outbreak in South Dakota, avoiding issuing a state-wide shelter-in-place order and instead affording her constituents the freedom to socially distance as appropriate. The strategy has seemingly paid off: with the exception of a large outbreak at a Smithfield meat processing plant, South Dakota has been relatively effective in flattening its curve to prevent overcrowding at hospitals while avoiding shutting down the entire economy. For her ingenuity, Noem has been rewarded with a cynical media that’s questioned her motives and desperately tried to prove that her approach is a failure.
The Washington Post, for example, ran the following headline on April 13: ‘South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots.’ The Post partially blamed Noem’s light touch on lockdowns for the Smithfield outbreak, but seemed unconcerned by the fact that, as an essential business, it would be unaffected by such strict measures anyway. They also neglected to mention Noem’s executive order on April 6, which mandated that vulnerable individuals in the Sioux Falls area should shelter-in-place.
The Associated Press took their critiques of Noem a step further in a Tuesday article, accusing her of leveraging her state’s response for a job in the Trump administration or a future office.
‘Many South Dakota Republicans say she’s widely viewed as seeking a job in Washington, whether in Trump’s administration or beyond,’ reporters Thomas Beaumont and Stephen Groves claimed. ‘An appearance with Trump at Mount Rushmore could boost Noem’s popularity.’
There’s no doubt Noem is friendly with the Trump administration (she served with Vice President Mike Pence in Congress), but it seems a bit malevolent to accuse someone of risking the lives of her own constituents so that she can demonstrate some kind of loyalty to the President or raise her own profile. Were that her goal, couldn’t she have just followed the lead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York? He’s received glowing coverage from the media for his statewide lockdown and yet has managed to stay on Trump’s good side by praising the administration during national television hits. Noem instead made the difficult choice that comes with much higher risk: it simply doesn’t make sense for her to take that bet merely appease her own sense of ambition. It seems far more likely that Noem, like many of the nation’s governors, is just trying to do what’s best for her state.