South Dakota reports no surge after Independence Day parties

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem presents the U.S. flag before the national anthem is played at the Professional Bull Riders competition on Saturday, July 11, at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. (Abigail Dollins /The Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota health officials on Monday said they have not seen an uptick in community spread of the coronavirus after thousands of people gathered for Independence Day celebrations in the western part of the state.

Gov. Kristi Noem has encouraged public gatherings in recent weeks, holding an outdoor fireworks celebration without social distancing at Mount Rushmore on July 3 and pushing for a Professional Bull Riders competition that allowed fans into a Sioux Falls arena this weekend. She even appeared at that event on horseback, wielding the American flag.

While other states in the South and Midwest have broken records in the number of daily cases reported, South Dakota’s report of 25 cases was one of the lowest since April. There are currently 63 people hospitalized with the virus, a number that Noem has said drives her coronavirus strategy.

The state says 7,524 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Almost 87% of those people have recovered, but 109 have died.

As the number of hospitalizations declined in recent weeks, the Republican governor has been emboldened to cast doubt on the science behind wearing masks to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. She called it “very mixed” last week.

Noem’s Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon lent some support to Noem's doubts on masks while also pointing to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people wear cloth masks when in public or in close proximity to people outside their household. Near the beginning of the pandemic, officials gave conflicting advice on masks, and the issue has opened up a political divide among many Americans.

“The science is not unequivocal about mask-wearing," Malsam-Rysdon said. “There are differing opinions, but right now the consensus from CDC is that mask-wearing is appropriate in certain circumstances.”

A number of scientific studies, experiments and analyses indicate wearing a mask helps block the respiratory droplets that carry coronaviruses, but the current research is missing randomized control trials – considered the gold standard of scientific proof. Those types of experiments are underway in Canada and Denmark, in which masks are tested in randomly assigned groups of nurses and the general public.

Studies have also shown that wide-spread mask-wearing is associated with slowing the spread of COVID-19 infections. An analysis published in a leading medical journal last month reviewed 172 studies and found masks and social distancing can help control the coronavirus but hand washing and other measures are still needed.

When asked about the state's advice on wearing masks, Malsam-Rysdon pointed back to the Department of Health's website for coronavirus information. The website makes it clear that masks are not required but advises people to consider the CDC recommendation to wear them in public. One document from the Department of Health's website says to “wear a mask when feasible” during social activities.

The South Dakota State Medical Association has also urged people to wear a mask when they can't avoid being close to people in public.


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