Noem reports latest COVID-19 results through Facebook video, rather than a news conference

Capitol News Bureau
Kristi Noem

FILE – In this Jan. 2019 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks in Pierre, S.D. Noem said in a statement Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, that as part of the state’s settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, the state will not enforce parts of the laws that made it a crime to direct or encourage others to “riot.” The ACLU sued over the laws, saying they infringed on free speech rights. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem had a private conference call with South Dakota state lawmakers Friday night about the coronavirus COVID-19, after talking privately earlier in the day with a the head of the federal Food and Drug Administration and with municipal-government lawyers from cities with 5,000 or more people.

Noem didn’t brief news reporters Friday about the latest COVID-19 results from the state Public Health Laboratory — there were no new positive cases found among the 29 high–priority specimens tested — but she did post a 10-minute video about a variety of coronavirus-related topics on her official Facebook page.

She told viewers of the video that South Dakota should have reached the community-spread level of COVID-19 illness a week ago. She said South Dakota still hasn’t reached that point.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader meanwhile sharply criticized her handling of the general COVID-19 situation in an editorial Friday and said community spread was probably already under way in South Dakota. Local healthcare providers decide who should be tested, based on federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

The Argus headline urged, “We’re wasting time waiting on flawed test numbers. Protect South Dakota citizens now.” A campaign of questions rose on Twitter too. Rapid City Journal editor Kent Bush also published a column critical of Noem and the state Department of Health, in part for withholding personal information about a training person who had circulated in the community.

Noem recorded the video at the state government emergency-operations center, located in the ampitheater at the Mickelson Criminal Justice Center on Pierre’s north side.

Noem said she planned to tell legislators Friday night that the state treasury was receiving revenues at a slower rate than they had expected just weeks ago, when lawmakers approved adjustments to the state government’s current budget that ends June 30 and the new budget that starts July 1.

The state Bureau of Finance and Management didn’t make a specific presentation to lawmakers during the 2020 session about the potential effects of COVID-19 on state government’s revenues.

“Our state budget has already from what we’ve seen in revenues been dramatically impacted because of what’s going on in our state. This ripple effect from the virus coming into South Dakota has impacted businesses which of course is going to impact our revenue. So I’ll just visit with them, we’ll be talking in the future about what that means,” she said in the video.

The Legislature is scheduled to return for a final day of work Monday, March 30. That would be the first weekday after the expiration of her current executive order that has non-essential state government employees working remotely through March 28.

Noem said decisions made in the emergency operations center are based on facts and information in South Dakota.

“We are not watching the national news and listening to other countries. We’re using the science of it as data of it, and the information the CDC is giving us, but we’re also watching and analyzing what’s happening here in South Dakota to make our decisions. That’s going to give us the best ability to respond and make sure we’re doing mitigation efforts that are appropriate for our state.

“And I’m just happy with how that partnership has gone in the state and what our local leaders and business owners and families and school districts, what they’re doing is just fantastic. We have so many of our school districts, there’s over a hundred and thirty of our school districts that are out there providing meals to kids that aren’t in the building.”

She said the Red Cross was seeking blood donations because people weren’t donating at their past levels amid the COVID-19 virus.

She recapped the numbers of 14 positives and 692 negatives at the state lab. She said South Dakota has started sending “a lot” of tests to commercial labs outside South Dakota, and her administration would only hear back when a positive was found. She said outside labs have now looked at “hundreds” of lower-priority specimens that South Dakota shipped to them.

Statistics displayed on the Facebook site indicated the video had some 35,000 views within a few hours after it was posted.

“I just want to remind you that this isn’t over,” Noem told viewers. “We still have weeks ahead of us, so I need you all to prepare for that. We know this is the long haul. This isn’t going to be done by Monday and it’s not going to be done in a week, that we’ve literally got weeks ahead of us, and that we all need to continue to work together to help our families, our kids, our businesses, all get through this, and do it in a way that really can inspire the rest of the country.

“What I’ve always said and always believed, that South Dakota is a special place, it is wonderful, and we can be an example to the nation. This is another way that we can do that.”

One state lawmaker reported afterward on Twitter how the call went.

“We will be facing this virus for weeks, possibly 8 to 10 or more. It will likely get worse before it gets better,” wrote Representative Fred Deutsch, a Florence Republican, in a string of 12 tweets.

“The Governor stated there will be a significant drop in state revenue and we will have to address the budget on veto day. It will probably be a very long day for us. Veto day is March 30th,” he added.

“The governor said she expects the budget will be affected for several years. They are currently working on numbers. We will have another call with the governor early next week. If you have questions PLEASE call or email me and I will get you answers. Stay safe and healthy,” he concluded.

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