SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem highlighted her role in South Dakota’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic in front of a Washington D.C. audience hosted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian public policy research organization. 

The one-hour event called “Government and Healthcare – A Dangerous Policy Cocktail” was live streamed on Cato Institute’s website.

Joining Noem was Dr. Jeffrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Gene Healy, the Senior Vice President for Policy at the Cato Institute, moderated the discussion. 

Healy said South Dakota has been No. 1 in personal income growth and gained in migration to the state after the pandemic. 

Healy said Singer has been a general surgeon for four decades. In October 2019, Singer said the World Health Organization had a playbook on how to fight the next flu outbreak which recommended not having lockdowns. 

Noem said there was an advantage to looking at COVID before it was in the state. 

“I was not a health expert when I was elected governor of South Dakota,” Noem said. “We got our first cases in South Dakota on March 10. I started to talk to folks around the world before we got our first case.” 

After hours and hours of discussion, Noem said she knew what was her job and what wasn’t her job before the first case hit South Dakota. 

“It came from me personally being informed,” Noem said. “It also was about me staying focused on what my job as governor is. The state appreciated that trust.” 

Noem said she would get pushback from other governors in other states. She said there were 16 or 17 governors that hadn’t shut down businesses. 

“That call kept getting smaller and smaller,” Noem said. “The pressure that leaders were facing was incredible. It was a lonely time.”  

Asked about criticism, Noem said former MSNBC host Rachel Maddow would go after her for an hour on her show. Noem said she was surprised more people wouldn’t discuss the best way to help yourself.

“The best thing that you can do is wash your hands,” Noem said. 

Singer asked Noem about tradeoffs from a John Hopkins study. 

“The statistics they were giving us were frightening,” Noem said. “We got through it in a way that was quite remarkable.” 

Noem said tourism is an important industry in South Dakota and she knew it would be negatively impacted if everyone stayed home. She said she had a national campaign to advertise South Dakota for its “wide open spaces and freedom.” 

“When the rest of the world was shut down, South Dakota was living a normal life,” Noem said. “South Dakota is wonderful but it’s small. I campaigned on growing our community. We’re growing at 5-times the national average.” 

Noem said the pandemic drove a lot of innovation but she said it’s sad how people treat public health officials now. She said it was alarming how many states took power grabs and how many people followed suit. 

Noem was asked about being worried about the virus and how she dealt with teacher unions when students went back to school. Noem said her family recognized the stress on her. She said people could lose perspective by watching the news and not seeing what was happening on the ground level. 

“Keeping perspective was important,” Noem said. “I also had to educate people.” 

Noem said there were mayors and county commissioners in South Dakota that would call her and ask for her to lockdown the state.

“I had mayors calling me, crying, begging me to shut the whole state down because they didn’t want to have make decisions in their own town. They didn’t want the responsibility,” Noem said.

Noem was asked if her policies could have been enacted in areas like New York City where there isn’t as much wide open space. Noem said South Dakota has urban areas and it has an older population than other states. 

“We all had the same type of environments in our states,” Noem said. 

Noem was asked about running for president and Noem said she hopes the United States gets the best leader possible in 2024.

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Noem has promoted South Dakota’s approach to COVID-19 in many national outlets including CBS Face The Nation and the Conservative Political Action Conference. She has touted how South Dakota never ordered a single business or church to close or define businesses as “essential” or “nonessential.” 

During the pandemic, Noem shut down schools and signed an executive order for South Dakotans 65-years-old or older to stay home in Minnehaha and Lincoln County. 

Since the pandemic started, there have been 276,655 reported cases, 12,458 hospitalizations and 3,167 deaths. South Dakota has had 360 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people which ranks 22nd out of all 50 states. 

KELOLAND News will be following the event and have coverage from the discussion.