The state responds to USA Today

Over the weekend, we were all privy to more unbelievably bad journalism. “The Dakotas are ‘as bad as it gets anywhere in the world’ for Covid-19” Joel Shannon of USA Today wrote. The facts tell a very different story, but Joel Shannon wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of his fictional storytelling.
Let’s start with the profoundly untrue headline. No, the Dakotas aren’t as bad as it gets anywhere in the world. In fact, the entire United States doesn’t break the top 10 list for deaths (per 100,000) globally.
Then, inside the US, if we look at the death rate (per 100,000) as of Nov. 16: New Jersey – 187, New York – 175, Massachusetts – 150, Connecticut – 133, Louisiana – 132, North Dakota is eighth on the list at 97. South Dakota is 17th on the list at 73 – lower than the overall US death rate per 100,000.
The world is seeing a rise in cases. The Midwest – not only North and South Dakota, but also Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and many others – is also seeing cases rise. It is inaccurate to suggest that the virus is primarily hitting North Dakota and South Dakota. And there’s zero science – yes, zero – to support the claim that South Dakota is seeing a rise in cases because Gov. Noem won’t issue a mask mandate or other harsh restrictions.
In addition to mask mandates, these states also have very restrictive “regulations,” which Joel Shannon and his source laud. Joel Shannon suggests to the reader that if only the Dakotas had been smarter and more proactive, a case spike could have been avoided. Joel Shannon makes no mention of all the other states and countries – with said restrictions – spiking. Instead, we are left with the obviously, intentional misimpression that the Dakotas have failed while the rest of the world, per the headline, has succeeded in stemming the pandemic.
This reporting from the USA Today is grossly irresponsible and totally dishonest. South Dakota health officials reported 1,100 new cases and 23 new deaths on Sunday. Every death is tragic, but to imply that South Dakota is somehow unique is totally false. The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked – in the United States or abroad. By September, we knew lockdowns didn’t contain the virus’ spread and reopening didn’t drive a second wave of infections. Germany was supposed to have the best testing and contact tracing in the world, but their strategies did not stop this next wave, either.
Instead of telling a story about the Dakotas also battling the pandemic, what we got this weekend from the USA Today was yet another perfect example of media manipulation. They present carefully selected facts without context and assemble an argument that would fall apart completely if the whole truth was offered. They confidently declare science “settled” that is still open to interpretation and has been under constant revision all year. Then, they use that argument to make wild accusations against public officials and principles of governance that they obviously disagree with.
No place is doing better or worse with the virus in a way that quantifiably relates to restrictions – a one-size-fits-all approach remains elusive. But the media continues to push the narrative that you’re crazy if you don’t lock down your state. Those lockdowns cause untold suffering. We cannot prove any real benefit in terms of public health.
Some in the media continue to suggest the public cannot be trusted to make rational decisions based on the available information.  So, we must do what “expert” public officials say and rely on their modeling as if it were gospel, even as they constantly change their minds and as the results fail to match their predictions.
States that have had much harsher restrictions than South Dakota are suffering spikes and greater fatality rates at the same time. South Dakota’s case-fatality rate is the 7th lowest in the country. Moreover, there are negative side effects for public health, mental health, education, and the economy associated with strict measures like mandates and lockdowns. Public officials have a duty to provide information to the people, and private individuals must weigh the costs and benefits on both sides of the equation. South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem has done this better than any Governor in America. Remember, there’s public debate and then there’s media manipulation and the enforcement of quasi-religious dogma that has little basis in reality. USA Today engaged in the latter.
—Maggie Seidel, senior advisor & policy director
Office of Gov. Kristi Noem

User login