Did Governor Kristi Noem just say the opposite of medical fact on national TV and endanger public health?
On Fox News again yesterday for another live chat from her private video studio in Pierre, Governor Noem said she tested negative again yesterday for coronavirus. Whew—that’s good.
However, this second test reverses a statement Team Noem made Monday saying the Governor would not be getting tested again. Noem’s office must have felt compelled to respond to the blowback from the Governor’s recklessly exposing the President of the United States to increased coronavirus risk for over three hours in close quarters on Air Force One after her close contact with a person who tested positive Friday for coronavirus.
Much worse, Noem proceeded to contradict what seems to be pretty well-known science about how coronavirus spreads:
“I’ve always taken #COVID19 very seriously, but South Dakota trusted our citizens to exercise their personal responsibility to keep themselves and their loved-ones safe,” Noem tweeted, adding that she had also tested negative on Friday before meeting with Trump.
In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, Noem was asked about flying back to Washington, DC, with Trump on Air Force One after coming into contact with Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. and a top campaign fundraiser.
“We need to remember that Kimberly was asymptomatic and the science of the virus tells us that it’s very, very difficult to spread the virus when you’re asymptomatic,” Noem responded [emphasis mine; Rebecca Riess and Caroline Kelly, “South Dakota Governor Says She Has Tested Negative for Coronavirus After Being Exposed to Top Trump Campaign Official,” CNN, 2020.07.07].
As Noem spoke, the press was covering a new study that shows Noem’s statement that people who aren’t showing symptoms are “very, very unlikely” to spread coronavirus is flat wrong:
Just over half of new coronavirus infections are tied to people who don’t have symptoms, according to a new study from infectious disease modelers.
People sick with COVID-19 can be infectious before they start to show symptoms, while some don’t show symptoms at all. The study, published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that these presymptomatic and asymptomatic cases account for 48% and 3.4% of virus transmissions, respectively – meaning “silent disease transmission” can fuel outbreaks even if everyone who has symptoms is immediately isolated.
Those figures likely represent a conservative estimate, researchers acknowledge, and assume 17.9% of all coronavirus infections are asymptomatic. Other recent research indicates as many as 45% of all cases could be among people with no symptoms, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously estimated that 40% of transmissions occur before people show symptoms [Gaby Galvin, “Study: ‘Silent’ Transmission the Top Driver of Covid Outbreaks,” U.S. News and World Report, 2020.07.07].
It was in the papers two weeks ago that Noem’s statement yesterday is dead wrong:
It is now widely accepted that seemingly healthy people can spread the virus, though uncertainty remains over how much they have contributed to the pandemic. Though estimates vary, models using data from Hong Kong, Singapore and China suggest that 30 to 60 percent of spreading occurs when people have no symptoms [Matt Apuzzo, Selam Gebrekidan, and David D. Kirkpatrick, “How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread,” New York Times, 2020.06.27].
Governor Noem already has her Department of Health broadcasting a deceptive and incomplete PSA that claims washing your hands “is the very best weapon we have” to prevent coronavirus. That’s false: masks are at least as important, maybe more, in preventing the spread of covid-19. Noem’s PSA mentions covering one’s mouth when one coughs or sneezes, but it does not mention wearing a mask regularly in public situations.
Now Noem compounds her mixed messaging by saying on national TV that you’re not likely to spread coronavirus if you aren’t showing symptoms, a claim flatly contradicted by scientific evidence.
Governor Noem, please correct your error. The lives of millions of Americans depend on elected leaders giving correct public health information.