Living next door to the worst

I live just a few miles from the North and South Dakota borders. This situation makes me a bit uncomfortable, since if the entire country has been slack about dealing with the pandemic, the Dakotas have been the slackest.

The current rates of infection and deaths per capita in South Dakota and previously restriction-free North Dakota are what Dr. Ali Mokdad would expect to see in a war-torn nation — not here.

“How could we allow this in the United States to happen?” asked Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. “This is unacceptable by any standards.”

North Dakota’s COVID-19 death rates per capita in the past week are similar to the hardest hit countries in the world right now — Belgium, Czech Republic and Slovenia — according to Saturday New York Times data. That data also places South Dakota’s recent per capita deaths among the world’s highest rates.

And there’s currently nowhere in the U.S. where COVID-19 deaths are more common than in the Dakotas, according to data published by The COVID Tracking Project.

It’s a situation “as bad as it gets anywhere in the world,” Dr. William Haseltine told USA TODAY.

It’s taken getting death rates to the highest in the world for those states to even begin to implement basic procedures to limit the spread. Not to excuse Minnesota, we’ve just been dragging behind on good policy, but not quite as badly as either Dakota. It helps that we’ve got a Democratic governor, unlike Noem (fanatical mad woman) and Burgum (coward).

Haseltine, president of ACCESS Health International and author of My Lifelong Fight Against Disease, blamed politicians — especially South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem — for ignoring public health measures that have been successfully used to curb the spread of the virus elsewhere in the world.

Noem has cast doubt on whether wearing masks in public is effective, saying that she’ll leave it up to the people to decide. She has said the virus can’t be stopped.

Burgum, also a Republican, had pleaded with people to wear masks and praised local towns and cities that have mandated masks. He had avoided requiring masks and refused to enforce limits on social gatherings and business occupancies until late Friday.

The disgraceful thing is that this isn’t even a question of following the will of the electorate — a majority of citizens favor a stronger state response.

A survey in late September and early October by the state health department found that 55% of respondents supported a mask mandate and 68% said they wore masks. Surveys of mask usage show North Dakota lags behind most of the nation — but now has reached about 80%, according to Facebook surveys mapped by Carnegie Mellon University.

We’ve let a fanatical minority of incompetents take the wheel and drive the country into a ditch.


  1. Matt G says

    The Dakotas shouldn’t worry – I’m sure it will just go away, the way things just go away….

  2. Ice Swimmer says

    Both states (ND and SD) have a very low population density (about 4 people/square km), which should make it easier to avoid the spread of the disease, but by bad policy, you can achieve very bad outcomes despite favorable conditions.

  3. weylguy says

    Sturgis, the Trump Rose Garden meetings and rallies and other maskless, non-social distancing events and stunts promoted by the Republican Party show that the GOP is a death cult grounded in ignorance and arrogance. Sorry that you have to live so close to the Dakotas, Dr. Myers.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The Dakotas Covid situation is prima facie evidence that libertarian ideals are a failure when it comes to things like public health and welfare. The situation requires everybody doing what is necessary for the public good, and not concentrating on personal freedom. I don’t see those who favor “personal responsibility” stepping up and actually taking personal responsibility, like paying significant monies to those they infected. They don’t want to have consequences for their actions done in the name of “freedom”.

  5. raven says

    She has said the virus can’t be stopped.

    She is factually wrong here.
    This is obvious to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention.

    There is more to the world than South Dakota and the USA. Many countries have been successful in stopping the virus. They include China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, and a few others.

    Noem is also an idiot. The goal isn’t to just stop the virus. The strategy was to flatten the curve so our hospitals weren’t overwhelmed with patients. When that happens death rates go up because the amount of medical care patients receives goes down. Not the least because a lot of health care workers also get infected and some of those even die and more become long haulers.
    After that, the goal is to say alive and healthy until…the vaccines become available!!! Once they are available, then the virus will be stopped at least as far as the individuals are concerned.

    Oddly enough, Noem will almost certainly be reelected in South Dakota because she has an R after her name. A cardboard cutout surrounded by dead bodies from Covid-19 could be elected as long as their is an R in there somewhere.

  6. microraptor says

    Asa tweet I saw yesterday put it “if lockdown is going to dramatically impact your lifestyle, you’re part of the reason we need a lockdown.”

  7. raven says

    Once again, herd immunity is a myth right now.
    .1. We need 60%-90% of the population to get Covid-19 virus for herd immunity.
    The range is so broad because we don’t know how many need to get infected.
    It’s estimated that at almost 1 year, the percentage of Americans who have had Covid-19 is 10%.

    .2. So how many years will we have to wait for herd immunity?
    No one knows that either.
    Estimates range from 3 years to 10 years.
    In that time, 3 million or so people will die and many millions more will be permanently disabled.

    .3. Herd immunity might be impossible no matter how long we wait and watch millions die.
    Studies show that the 4 Corona viruses currently in the human population produce immunity that lasts about a year.
    We have no idea how long Covid-19 virus immunity will last though.
    If it lasts a year and it takes 3 years for herd immunity (unlikely to be that short a time anyway), we won’t ever reach it.

    The other way and the better way to achieve herd immunity is…the vaccines. Quicker, safer, cheaper.

  8. says

    Yeah. Doesn’t matter, apparently, how much Noem and her party enablers in the state destroy our public health here—those two-to-one vote margins hardly seem to change. Perhaps her office won’t blow me off quite so badly as the PUC (check out that piece of worn), but my expectations aren’t high on that account.

  9. rorschach says

    raven @7:
    “We need 60%-90% of the population to get Covid-19 virus for herd immunity.”

    This is not correct, we need a vaccine taken up by >70 or so % of people for herd immunity, and even then it may prove fleeting. Letting a deadly disease run rampant does not convey herd immunity, see Sweden. Antibody response post infection seems to vary depending on disease severity, age, comorbs etc., and last for ~4-6 months as far as we can tell right now, probably longer for memory T cells. So it’s likely we are going to need regular booster shots similar to the flu. There is no herd immunity without vaccination.

    North Dakota, pop. 800000, Covid cases today: 935
    Australia, pop. 25 million, Covid cases today : 0

    You are being served very poorly by your elected representatives. Freedom!!!!

  10. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    Below is a comment from a nurse in South Dakota, copied and pasted from Democratic Underground:

    “I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is Going to ruin the USA. All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COViD because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens. And I can’t stop thinking about it. These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated. It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll. You just go back and do it all over again.

    Which is what I will do for the next three nights. But tonight. It’s me and Cliff and Oreo ice cream. And how ironic I have on my “home” Hoodie. The South Dakota I love seems far away right now.”

    This is what comes of multi-media concentration broadcasting lies 24/7. Sinclair media broadcasting Hate Radio. Murdoch’s Fox News with hundreds of lies per hour. And print giants swallowing up local papers and printing generic lies across hundreds of small towns. It is clear that, regardless of how the U.S. deals with the pandemic, the never-ending symphony of lies creating discord and mass-psychosis will have to be dealt with if the U.S. is to maintain any kind of stable civil life.

    The country cannot stay together if one-half of the population lives in a fact-denying fantasy world.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    In Canadian provinces, there seems to be a strong correlation between number of active cases per capita and political leaning of the governing party. Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario all have right-leaning governments who seem to be more concerned with getting the money flowing than protecting citizens. And as is so often the case with conservatives, their stupid adherence to their stupid dogma ends up with them shooting themselves (and unfortunately everyone else) in the foot.


  12. ORigel says

    If you vote for politicians who care more about how the stock market is doing than their constituents’ lives, you earned this. What, you think Republicans give a shit about YOU and would make an exception?

    North Dakota just voted for Burgum 69-27. You can either support COVID-migitating measures, or you can vote for Burgum. You cannot do both!

    North and South Dakota earned this. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

    (Of course, a lot of victims are Democrats or left-leaning Independents. Democrats tend to take COVID seriously, while Republicans tend to eschew mask-wearing. So lots of Dakotans are not hypocrites on this.)

  13. says

    I just read this article and it’s frightening: 40% of respondents planned to attend or host 10+ gatherings for Thanksgiving and/ or the other holidays. And if they just killed themselves you’d say “just deserts”, but they’ll infect others who have no choice. Their kids will infect other kids in school. They will infect their co-workers and clients, and at 40% some of those people will work in healthcare and nursing and spread it there.
    The problem isn’t even that the government is failing, the problem is that a huge amount of the population can no longer be reached. I don’t even think a 180 turn of the government would be very effective, because like all rules, Covid rules depend on people either seeing the why the rule is good and necessary, or people reasonably fearing punishment. You’ve already lost 40% to egoism and ignorance and you cannot police 40% in their own daily interactions. Sure, you can close bars and restaurants, but people’s homes?

  14. raven says

    In Canadian provinces, there seems to be a strong correlation between number of active cases per capita and political leaning of the governing party.

    That is likely to end up being true of the US as well.

    During the last pandemic, Swine flu 2009, the red states had higher death rates than the general population. The reason is even partially known, they were less likely to get the Swine flu vaccine that was rapidly developed.

    The fundie xians/red states are on track to do this again with Covid-19 virus. In the case we are discussing here, North and South Dakota are as red as one can get. Don’t forget that the federal government’s Covid-19 response from the GOP/Trump was to do more or less nothing and how is that working out.
    I would ask the fundies if they ever get tired of getting sick, permanently disabled, or dying from sheer stupidity, but they never answer because they don’t even know why.

  15. asclepias says

    I live in Wyoming, and was gratified to see a conference broadcast by PBS where Governor Gordon addressed the citizens of the state and said “we are behaving like knuckleheads.” Wyoming is a very red state, but I was glad to see the governor taking it seriously. Too many people in the state are not. This morning’s headline in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle was that 17 more people in the state dies of COVID yesterday.

  16. seachange says

    @11 hairhead

    Addiction is stronger than truth. My aunt was on a ventilator dying of lung cancer and she begged us for cigarettes.

  17. says

    We care more about tokens than people as a society. The Dakotas are just showing their version as it relates to the virus. Trump watches the unstable magic token generator to see how the economy is doing because that’s what his culture does.

  18. Mark Jacobson says

    My family and I live in North Dakota. My grandmother died from Covid after she contracted it in the nursing home. Also my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor last month and she’s just about to start radiation and chemo to hopefully give her a little more time, but the threat of Covid looms larger than ever, ready to take advantage of her weakened immune system. The whole situation is just absurd.

    Would that Caine was still alive, she’d give this state the tongue-lashing it deserves.

  19. hillaryrettig says

    the oil industry, which is big in ND, especially, has a lovely expression, “sacrifice zone,” which refers to the ecosystems, people, and animals that the industry is willing to sacrifice in its evil quest for profits.

    what a surprise that, once you start of thinking of people as expendable, it taints public policy at all levels.

  20. unclefrogy says

    too bad covid is not political because it is illiterate being deaf dumb and blind and just moves from host to host as chance enables, it could solve in a very draconian way the political problems that are preventing progress.
    I used to think these kinds of reactions in movies were just exaggeration for dramatic effect, how very sad to see that they were not.
    uncle frogy

  21. asclepias says

    Somebody running for a state seat from Gilette, Wyoming died of COVID the day before the election, and won the seat the next day.

  22. Marissa van Eck says

    I have no problem at all with these people dying. Fuck them, and may they rot in Hell when they’re done here. The problem is the damage they do to the rest of us.

    In my case, I’m a hospital worker…and as I JUST got hired at this one, and because this is America, no benefits till January. Now I’m in the pharmacy rather than a nurse, but meds still need to get run up to the ICU and the COVID wards by hand. So I could very well catch COVID and die (or end up with EVEN MORE CRIPPLING DEBT THAN I ALREADY HAVE!) while…working in a hospital to try and cure COVID cases.

    This country is over. I am heading to Canada as soon as the border opens and money allows, and to Hell with the United States.

  23. whheydt says

    Some reporting is suggesting that the current surge in cases can be traced back to partying at Halloween. This leads to some concern about how people will behave for Thanksgiving and Christmas. What I think is likely to make caseloads explode is New Years Eve.

  24. microraptor says

    At least one thing I saw estimated that we could potentially see one and a quarter million new cases as a result of Thanksgiving alone.

  25. birgerjohansson says

    Two news items, one good, one bad.
    Another vaccine has shown great promise, 94% effective -and it does not require extreme cold for storage.
    Bad: the Swedish PM has gone out and announced a very strict upper limit for the number of people in social gatherings. This became necessary since too many people are dubasses who think social distancing is somebody else’s problem.
    It seems we are not so different from the MAGA hats after all, which is a source of shame for me.

  26. sc_262299b298126f9a3cc21fb87cce79da says

    The “virus can’t be stopped”? Isn’t that also the Republican attitude about mass shootings? Nothing we can do about it. Freedom!