While making a dig at Fauci at the Orlando conference, Noem touted her personal liberties approach to the coronavirus pandemic, forgoing recommendations to mandate masks and instead allowing a massive motorcycle rally later tied to a national surge in infections. Despite Noem’s claims of success, her state has reported more infections per resident than any state besides North Dakota.
“South Dakota is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close,” she said to applause and cheers. “We never instituted a shelter-in-place order. We never mandated that people wear masks. We never even defined what an essential business is.”
On Sunday, Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Noem’s remarks were “unfortunate” and “not very helpful,” especially while more contagious variants are proliferating in the United States and the nation is ramping up a massive vaccination effort.
“Right now, as we are going down and plateauing, is not the time to declare victory,” Fauci told anchor Margaret Brennan.
“Sometimes, you think things are going well, and just take a look at the numbers,” Fauci added. “They don’t lie.”
South Dakota ranks second nationally for the most coronavirus cases reported per capita, eighth for total deaths per capita and ninth for peak hospitalized count per capita, according to data gathered and analyzed by The Washington Post.
Noem, who also spoke with Brennan on Sunday, insisted she listened to public health experts — but at the same time, she stressed that the mandates advised by federal officials were unnecessary because her state’s residents could make individual decisions.
When asked whether she claimed personal responsibility for the Midwest outbreak seeded by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which about 100,000 people attended, Noem asserted that research that identified a $12.2 billion public health price tag associated with the event was false and that fewer than 100 cases were traced to the rally.
As Brennan pressed Noem on her decision to disregard recommendations for stricter guidelines, the governor brushed off questions, saying Democratic leaders should answer.
“I know you are conservative and you care about the sanctity of life, so how can you justify making decisions that put the health of your constituents at risk?” Brennan asked.
“And those are questions you should be asking every other governor as well,” Noem responded.
Noem claimed the state’s infection rate peaked earlier than those of other states, which is why the state’s per capita number of cases was high. But South Dakota has tallied records for infections and deaths as recently as November.
Noem told the CPAC crowd that she successfully mitigated the virus by prioritizing hospitalization figures over infection rates. She said Fauci had predicted the state would have 10,000 people hospitalized at its worst. Instead, the state has not surpassed more than 600 hospitalized.
“I don’t know if you would agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” she said to booming applause.
Critics of Noem’s speech argued she was belittling the sickness and death inflicted by the virus in her state.
CNN medical analyst and George Washington University professor Jonathan Reiner called Noem’s remarks “outrageous.”
“Her science denialism has resulted in the propagation of that disease unnecessarily throughout her state mercilessly,” Reiner told CNN’s Ana Cabrera, “so I side with Tony Fauci.”