You’d think South Dakota’s chief of public health would know that smoking is bad for everyone’s health. But with coronavirus surging again in South Dakota, Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon is heavily smokescreening:
“We’re seeing an increase in cases, and that’s not wholly unexpected,” said Malsam-Rysdon. “The virus will infect people, and a certain amount of those folks will become sick enough to be needing hospitalization” [Jacob Newton, “‘Delta Is the Predominant Strain of Covid in the State’: DOH Secretary Talks Covid, Vaccination, and Masking,” KELO-TV, 2021.08.20].
Horsehockey. Nobody expected that South Dakota would have more than three times as many new coronavirus cases on August 20, 2021 (7-day moving average: 386) as it did on August 20, 2020 (113). The Department of Health expected just six weeks ago that we were making enough progress against the pandemic that we could scale back reporting new coronavirus cases and deaths from daily to weekly. Nobody expected that with safe, effective, and free vaccines available throughout the state to every adult in South Dakota since April and to every person age 12 and over since May, we’d get to August 20 and have only 18 counties out of 66 where more than half of the residents old enough to get vaccinated would have done so. (None of our counties have hit 70%; the CDC says that, as of yesterday, shots leader Dewey County had vaccinated 69.4% of its 12+ population; Oglala Lakota County was in second place at 63.0%; Kingsbury, Yankton, Lyman, and Buffalo counties are the only others above 60%.) We expected that given a chance to save lives and get life back to normal, the vast majority of South Dakotans would have leapt at such a neighborly opportunity to do so much good with so little effort.
The only way anyone would have expected coronavirus cases to surge this badly in August 2021 was if they were expecting that the reckless political posturing of a Governor who denigrates science and scientists would bear poison fruit this summer. Those of us who recognize that Kristi Noem is a menace to public health (physical, intellectual, moral) may have expected bad pandemic news in August, but Secretary Malsam-Rysdon can’t be saying that Dakota Free Press was right and her boss was wrong.
No. Not wholly unexpected, will infect people, and will become sick is code for the poo-poo message Team Noem trotted out last August about “inevitability”: there’s no surprise here, nothing unexpected, nothing we didn’t foresee, and, most importantly, nothing we could have done anything about. The next you get to vote for Kristi Noem, and the person next to her on the ballot is saying, “People died because Kristi Noem didn’t do anything to fight coronavirus,” Kristi Noem desperately needs you to believe that there was nothing she could do to stop coronavirus.
Again, that’s horsehockey. Kristi lied, and people died. And more are getting sick now, because Governor Noem refuses to put her full voice and policy behind the science of vaccines and masks… and too many South Dakotans are willing to follow her over her ideological pandemic cliff.
Anyone looking at the science we have available after a year and a half of intense study and painful experience with coronavirus would expect that we as a community would be taking the easy actions available to us to beat this pandemic into submission. Only the greatest pessimists would have expected that South Dakota government, community spirit, and respect for life would have failed so miserably as to make coronavirus worse now in South Dakota than it was a year ago.
Related Malarkey: In the same KELO-TV interview, Secretary Malsam-Rysdon also runs interference for Noem’s reckless tourism promotion by denying simple epidemiology:
Five days after the official end of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Malsam-Rysdon was hesitant to project a rise in COVID cases relating to the event that saw over 500,000 vehicles enter the city of around 7,000 residents.
“I don’t think it’s fair to attribute cases to any one event. To the degree that we know people are in fact coming in contact with each other at higher rates — that’s everything from, you know, county fairs to the Sturgis Rally to schools opening to families getting together” [Newton, 2021.08.20].
An event brings more than half a million exuberant visitors from all over the country to one small, crowded town—that is the textbook example of a superspreading event, more dangerous to public health than smaller county fairs, and far more dangerous to public health than the reopening of schools that are taking pandemic precautions. It is hard to trace exactly where cases come from, since South Dakota isn’t looking all that hard for the sources of infection for fear of what it will learn, but if we were doing real science in South Dakota, it would be perfectly fair to attribute cases to events where they spread.