South Dakota’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic has produced contrasting results: one of the nation’s best economic recoveries, and one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
Governor Kristi Noem’s rejection of statewide shelter-in-place orders, business shutdowns and mask mandates has made her a celebrity in the Republican Party. She campaigned for President Trump in 17 states and touted her own record last month in Maine and New Hampshire.
“What I did in South Dakota is what we say Republicans always believe,” Noem said during a campaign stop. “We just did it.”
But not all Republican leaders took the same approach.
Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott ordered statewide shutdowns. He mandated masks. And when he reopened the state’s economy, he did it slowly.
“My decisions throughout this pandemic, from the closures and other mitigation steps in March and April, to the methodical reopening of our economy, hospitals and schools, has been based on the data, the science and the recommendations of our health experts,” Scott said during a public briefing.
Vermont now has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country. While South Dakota frequently suffers more than 1,000 new infections per day (and more than 2,000 on Nov. 12), Vermont reports fewer than 3,000 total cases since the pandemic began. And Vermont reports 59 COVID deaths, while South Dakota has 644.
Vermont also has one of the nation’s most recovered economies. It ranks close behind South Dakota in some national categories, like unemployment rates, where South Dakota ranks second (4.1 percent) and Vermont ranks third (4.2 percent).
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said his state chose a balanced approach to the virus and its economic consequences.
“We felt we could reopen the economy and do the appropriate public health measures for the pandemic in parallel,” Levine said, “and that you didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.”