Story at a glance

  • Surges of COVID-19 infections have occurred in South Dakota, but no mask mandate has been ordered.
  • Local city governments and professional groups have advocated for mandatory face masks in public.

South Dakota is currently leading the U.S. in COVID-19 outbreaks, with a daily positivity rate of about 12.2 percent and hitting a record high of 1,821 new cases on Nov. 12 alone — both indicators of the rampant virus outbreak in the state.

Despite the severity of the outbreak, state leadership has still declined to implement a mandatory mask requirement. Instead, the state has “encouraged” South Dakotans to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and use a mask while in public. 

Evidence of masks being effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission has steadily grown over the course of the pandemic, prompting the CDC to formally recommend wearing masks. 


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Still, Gov. Kirsti Noem (R) has not issued a mandatory mask order, and The Associated Press reports she has no intention to change course. Spokesperson Maggie Seidel told reporters that the public health protocols adopted by some states are broadly ineffective.

“The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked – in the United States or abroad,” Seidel reportedly wrote in an email.

Other governors in highly afflicted states have implemented some mask-wearing measures. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), for instance, issued the state’s new mask order requiring a face covering when engaging in social gatherings with 25 people or more.

Other states issuing new mask mandates include Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana. 

Noem previously stated that she believes she does not have the authority to issue mask mandates as governor. 

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

Noem was referring to the “personal decision” individuals make when they elect to wear or forgo a face mask.

Influential groups in South Dakota have spoken out against the lack of policy, including the South Dakota State Medical Association, which issued a press release supporting mandatory masks while in public. 

“To show respect and compassion for physicians, other frontline healthcare providers and everyone in our communities, the South Dakota State Medical Association (SDSMA) urges South Dakotans to help preserve our healthcare workforce by practicing good hygiene, physical distancing, and wearing masks when in public settings or around others,” the release read. “The SDSMA supports masking and will continue to plead with the public to wear face masks in public. We strongly support a statewide mandate and, in communities considering mask mandates, we support local mask mandates.”


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Published on Nov 23, 2020