“North and South Dakota have taken a laissez-faire approach to dealing with Covid-19 — never instituting stay-at-home orders or mask mandates as other states, including some of their neighbors, did.
South Dakota in particular took a very hands-off approach, with no restrictions even on large gatherings. The strongest action Republican Gov. Kristi Noem took was to push businesses to follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Otherwise, Noem has boasted about her state’s loose strategy: She argued in an ad that businesses struggling with restrictions in other states should “come grow [their] company” in South Dakota.
“Here in South Dakota, we trust our people,” Noem said. “We respect their rights. We won’t shut them down.”
Noem still defends her approach, arguing in a recent op-ed that she’ll continue to resist stricter measures. “I’m going to continue to trust South Dakotans to make wise and well-informed decisions for themselves and their families,” she wrote.
North Dakota has done a little more. While avoiding statewide restrictions and lockdowns, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in October called for reduced business capacity in some counties as cases spiked in his state. But these are mere recommendations — it’s hard to know if any businesses are following them — and, even then, he stopped short of recommending closures.
North Dakota also has one of the most expansive testing regimes in the US — consistently reporting one of the highest rates of coronavirus testing in the country. This may partially explain its high case count, although its positivity rate indicates that it still doesn’t have enough testing. And that testing-and-tracing system can only do so much once the virus is completely out of control, which growing hospitalizations and death rates are evidence of.
“Our contact tracers are overwhelmed with a backlog of cases,” Carson said. “We have further heard from many of our contact tracers that they are meeting increasing resistance from people to give up their contacts or abide by quarantine rules. People have become fatigued with the restrictions.”
Similar to South Dakota’s governor, North Dakota’s Burgum has pushed a message of personal responsibility. “It’s not a job for government,” he said. “This is a job for everybody.””