What’s a governor to do when two out of every five of their residents contract covid-19 thanks to a lack of lockdowns, virtually non-existent mask mandates, and $5 million federal relief funds allocated toward boosting tourism? Host a potential superspreader event and tweet the evidence, of course. That’s how South Dakota Governor and burgeoning GOP darling Kristi Noem does it, at least.
On Tuesday, Noem tweeted a photo featuring herself, her husband, and close to two dozen legislative pages huddled together on a staircase like a cursed sorority house photo.
“Love having our legislative pages over for dinner!” Noem wrote. “We could not get through the session without their help.”
Only one person in the photo opted to wear a mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that large gatherings be held outdoors. If that’s not possible, a well-ventilated room will suffice. Guests are also encouraged to wear masks and avoid close contact. Given South Dakota’s winter weather and the lack of social distancing evidenced in this photo, it’s safe to say that didn’t fucking happen.
Noem prides herself on skirting covid-19 safety guidelines, convinced they diminish so-called “freedoms.” At the beginning of the pandemic, Noem refused to mandate mask-wearing or limit large crowds. In fact, she expressed skepticism of their effectiveness as recently as October.
In August 2020, Noem allowed the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in Sturgis to go on as scheduled, despite the fact that the event draws hundreds of thousands to the state. Predictably, the Sturgis rally led to a massive outbreak across the midwest, and as of September was linked to over 260,000 covid-19 cases. Native American reservations in South Dakota instituted mask mandates, mass testing sites, and checkpoints thanks, in part, to Noem’s reluctance to combat the spread of covid-19, but their populations remain disproportionately vulnerable to the virus.
As galling as the page photo is, it’s just one of many public, maskless events she’s attended (and shared on social media) in the last few weeks alone.
In a recent interview on Fox News’s The Ingraham Angle, Noem patted herself on the back for her covid-19 response.
“We did have tragedies and we did have losses, but we also got through it better than virtually every other state,” she said.
And on February 5, Noem tweeted: “Tragically, the highest day for nationwide COVID deaths was YESTERDAY. For comparison, South Dakota’s peak was two months ago. Instead of giving the false hope that mask mandates or lockdowns can stop the virus, let’s focus on ramping up vaccinations to those who need them most.”
Noem can try to twist the deaths and lifelong health problems of her constituents however she wants. But according to CNN, in December—that peak Noem mentioned—South Dakota had the second-most cases per 100,000 people in the nation, ranked ninth in the nation of covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people, and suffered from a burden of patients and staff shortages.
This is nothing to be proud of, but try telling that to Noem, who is probably breathing all over a cluster of elderly nursing home residents right this minute.