South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem explains stance on mask mandate, won't enforce 'to make people feel good'

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Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stood behind her decision not to enact a statewide mask mandate on Wednesday despite calls from medical experts to do so amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

While a number of cities in South Dakota have enforced local rules requiring masks to be worn in public, Noem’s office has declined to enact statewide guidelines such as those active in New York, Ohio and many other states. However, a rising number of cases in South Dakota this week prompted renewed calls for action at the state level.

“There are many states that do have mask mandates in place and some that do not, but I look at their rate of spread and the fact is, is that cases are increasing in many of those states as well,” Noem said at a press conference.

The South Dakota State Medical Association, the largest group representing local doctors, said Wednesday that it “strongly supports” a statewide mask mandate. South Dakota is experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the country, with state officials reporting 219 deaths in November alone as of Monday.

Noem said cities and local governments have the “flexibility” to implement mask mandates based on the needs of their communities.

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“I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate just looking to make people feel good,” Noem said regarding calls for a statewide mandate. “I want to do good and actually put forward provisions that make a difference for these families and these local communities have some flexibility today, that Sioux Falls can make a different decision than Rapid City, Rapid City can make a different decision than Lemon, South Dakota.”

“That’s what some of these local leaders are doing in reacting to the people of the community based on what they want,” she added.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to work with governors to implement an effective national mask mandate when he takes office in January. President Trump has yet to concede the 2020 election. The former vice president has formed a COVID-19 task force to prepare a response plan as the country approaches 250,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

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