South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem may be a rock star in Republican politics, but she has no business telling Maine how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Kristi Noem

Throughout the Midwest, the growth in new coronavirus cases has been the worst in the nation. Still, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem told lawmakers in her state “we didn’t take a one size fits all approach and the results have been incredible.” James Nord/Associated Press

Under her reckless leadership, South Dakota is home to one of the world’s worst outbreaks. Noem does not believe in public health orders that have been proven to reduce the spread of the virus. As a result, South Dakota has recorded almost as many new cases in the last seven days (6,273) as Maine has had in the last seven months (6,387).

But a day after nearly 1,000 South Dakotans tested positive for coronavirus, Noem found time to visit Maine on Wednesday, to campaign for President Trump and take a few shots at Gov. Janet Mills.

“I made very different decisions than the governor here in Maine,” Noem said at a Team Trump bus tour rally in Bangor. “I would remind (Gov. Mills) that she overstepped her authority. Governors do not have the authority to put in the mandates that she did.”

Maine does not need any advice from Gov. Noem, but Mainers can learn a lot from the example of South Dakota. We are both rural states with small populations and a culture of outdoor recreation.

That has not been able to spare South Dakota from the pandemic, however. Although cases stayed low through the spring and summer, they have since exploded, going from a seven-day average of about 100 new cases a day in mid-August to nearly 1,000 cases a day this week. These numbers are not caused by an increase in testing: South Dakota’s new cases are coming in twice as fast as its additional tests. And the tests are coming back positive 43 percent of the time, indicating that the state is not testing enough people to assess how far the virus has spread.


In Maine the positivity rate is less than 1 percent, but that should not make us smug. What happened in South Dakota could happen here if we don’t remain vigilant about controlling the virus’s spread.

The number of new cases in Maine may be relatively low, but they are still growing at an alarming rate. The seven-day average for new coronavirus cases has doubled in the last month, going from 27.4 to 54.1. The 87 new cases recorded on Tuesday was the highest one-day number of new cases since last spring.

Tuesday’s cases were recorded in 14 out of 16 Maine counties, and not associated with specific large outbreaks.

“The increases are driven by the fact that the virus is everywhere,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director. The virus “is hitching a ride and traveling across the state, going from home, to home, to home.”

The only thing that will protect Maine from becoming another South Dakota is if Mainers continue to do the things we know will stop the spread of the virus.

What Gov. Mills gets right (and South Dakota’s governor gets wrong) is that fighting COVID is a matter not of limiting individual freedom, but a matter of social responsibility. As long as this virus circulates, it’s up to each of us to protect the people around us by being careful.

With lives at stake, small sacrifices such as avoiding crowds, wearing a mask in public, maintaining safe distances and washing our hands is not too much too ask.

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