UPDATE: This story has been updated with a response from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s office.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s COVID-19 response once again drew the ire of a national health expert on CBS’s Face the Nation.
During a more than an hour-long interview, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and board member for Pfizer, discussed the COVID-19 pandemic response in the United States.
More than halfway through the interview, host Margaret Brennan asks Gottlieb, “Which governors handled this the worst?” Gottlieb responded by asking, “Which governors had the worst outcomes?” Brennan asked “By outcomes, you mean deaths?”
“Deaths. Certainly looking at South Dakota, you know where this was just allowed to travel largely unfettered with public health interventions, where you saw one of the highest death rates per capita,” Gottlieb said. “You have to look back and say that was a bad experience. You know, people always look at the deaths per capita and you know, New Jersey is right up there and New York is going to be high.”
You can watch Gottlieb’s comments about South Dakota at the 9:38-mark in the part 2 video or read them in the full transcript.
KELOLAND News has reached out to Gov. Kristi Noem’s office for a comment about Gottlieb’s comments and how Gov. Noem judges the state’s response to COVID-19.
Spokesman Ian Fury sent KELOLAND News an emailed statement, “Governor Noem has said many times that even one death is too many. As you know, South Dakota is not even in the top 10 states for death rate from the virus. Every state above South Dakota on that list imposed more COVID restrictions, since South Dakota had more respect for freedom than any state in the country.”
Fury also cited CNN Business’s “Back-to-Normal Index” and added “at the moment, South Dakota has the strongest economy of any state in America.”
As of Sept. 20, South Dakota has recorded 2,105 COVID-19 deaths. One of every 422 South Dakotans has died due to COVID-19 based on 2020 census data.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data analysis has South Dakota listed for 237 deaths per 100,000 people, which ranks No. 11. The national average is 203 deaths per 100,000 people.
Vermont, which has a population of 643,077, has the nation’s lower death rate per 100,000 people with 45. There’s only been 298 COVID-19 deaths reported in Vermont.
Gottlieb said deaths per capita needs to be looked at “the post initial wave period.” He pointed out New York, New Jersey and Connecticut dealt with COVID-19 in March 2020 when “we didn’t know how to treat COVID.”
Brennan then asked Gottlieb on how Americans should judge a response to COVID, “Is it on deaths?”
Gottlieb, who is also promoting a new book he wrote, said it’s important to look at “what happened within the states.” He also admitted he’s not in a position to “judge” state economies relative to other states.
Gottlieb isn’t the first national health expert to raise concerns about South Dakota’s COVID-19 response on Face the Nation. In January, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, criticized the Sturgis Rally and called it “not OK.”
A few days after Birx’s comments, Gov. Noem highlighted South Dakota’s COVID-19 response as focusing on science, data and facts, while allowing for personal responsibility and keeping hospital capacity available.