This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The word ‘only’ was removed in reference to the types of masks the governor says are effective.
PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem said Wednesday N95 masks are effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
Noem addressed the coronavirus pandemic in a news conference on Nov. 18. It’s the first time she’s done so since July 28.
“Also just remember the masks that have been shown to be effective are the N95s as long as people wear them properly. And as long as they are not touching them and as long as they are utilizing them in the ways they can be effective in certain situations,” Noem said of mask wearing for COVID-19 protection.
Noem has said repeatedly that she uses science, data and facts to guide her and the state in her coronavirus response and planning.
But the N95 comment is in stark contradiction to information shared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC recommends that people “Wear masks with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
“Do NOT wear masks intended for health care workers, for example, N95 respirators,” the CDC website said.
The CDC recommends that people over the age of two wear masks in public settings, like on public and mass transportation, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.
The CDC said in a Nov. 10 brief that multi-layer cloth masks block the release of respiratory particles into the environment. It also said the universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with social distancing, hand hygiene and adequate ventilation.
The CDC issued a brief stated “Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer. The relationship between source control and personal protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use. Further research is needed to expand the evidence base for the protective effect of cloth masks and in particular to identify the combinations of materials that maximize both their blocking and filtering effectiveness, as well as fit, comfort, durability and consumer appeal. Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”
The CDC cited 40 different sources for the Nov. 10 brief.
Even the state DOH uses the CDC as reference and source for the public.
The DOH has referred to the CDC guidelines for coronavirus pandemic public actions. The guidelines are included on the DOH website.
Noem said she continues to trust South Dakotans to be responsible when it comes to responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Noem said she will not support a mask mandate but said cities are using flexibility by establishing their own.
Yet, “If there is no enforcement then it’s really just a suggestion…,” Noem said of some mask mandates. And if there is no enforcement would it be any different than what South Dakota is encouraging its residents to do.
Based on the Noem news conference, a mask mandate without enforcement would be different than what Noem has shared about masks.
Noem encouraged people to use common sense. She said people needed to diligently wash their hands, stay home if they are sick and be extra cautious around the vulnerable population.
Several minutes later, Noem reminded the public to be extra diligent with personal hygiene and to stay home when sick to protect the vulnerable population, in particular those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“I’ve consistently said that people who want to wear masks should wear masks and people who don’t shouldn’t be shamed because they choose not to,” Noem said. “It has been clear from the beginning that I’m not in favor of mandating mask wearing. I don’t believe I have the authority to mandate that and that people can use their own personal responsibility to make a decision when it comes to masks.”
States with mask mandates still have increasing cases of COVID-19 as well as increasing hospitalizations and death rates, she said.
Noem cited data from Johns Hopkins, which she said showed that South Dakota has the seventh lowest fatality rate in the U.S. and its doing better than other states, including some with mask mandates.
On Nov. 18, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map showed South Dakota with a percent positivity rate for testing of 58.42% for the week of Nov. 8-14 and a 54.84% rate for November.
Wisconsin was cited by Noem as a mask mandate state where the COVID-19 cases are worse than South Dakota’s. Johns Hopkins said the percent positive rate there for November is 15.87%.
Johns Hopkins lists South Dakota’s death rate for Nov. 18 per 100,000 people at 73 per 100,000. That would include all deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state’s first COVID-19 death was reported on March 10. The rate is lower than New York’s.