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.