PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem’s decisions to keep the economy open during the coronavirus pandemic came as South Dakotans physically suffered some of the nation’s worst damage from COVID-19.

According to state by state data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Dakota ranked third-highest in the nation in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population as of June 9.

For deaths related to COVID-19, South Dakota was tied for eighth-highest among states per 100,000 population (and ninth-highest if New York City is included, as the CDC does.)

As for percentage of population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, South Dakota ranked 25th as of June 10, according to CDC data.

Noem’s emphasis on the economy was reflected in a statement Monday to KELOLAND News from Daniel Bucheli, communications director for the state Department of Health.

“South Dakota’s unique approach in handling of COVID-19 and its positive results are evident. We provided the latest information and trusted the people of South Dakota to make the best decisions for themselves and their families,” he said.

“Our people did not see business shutdowns, our government did not impose blanket restrictions on anyone’s freedom, and because of such, we are now enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in the country, while pushing our COVID-19 numbers down significantly,” he continued. “There is a reason people are flocking to our state and why we are being talked about everywhere—unlike other states which chose a different route and are now paying the economic price for it.”

According to the state Labor Market Information Center, South Dakota’s unemployment rate for April 2021 was 3.0%. It had been as low as 2.5% in September 2019, spiked to 9.5% in April 2020 as the pandemic put thousands out of work, came back down to 3.2% last October and fluctuated in the 3s since.

Meanwhile new data released Monday from the state Bureau of Finance and Management showed general-fund revenues ran ahead of the Legislature’s projections by $59.6 million with one month left in the budget year.

State Senator Lee Schoenbeck posted a message Sunday on Twitter: “Fully understanding how many trolls will jump in here, like to thank Governor Noem for keeping South Dakota open. This was NO small deal. I get to hear how other states are faring, and they’re suffering because they lacked Noem’s leadership   GREAT to be in and from South Dakota”

The CDC data tell some of the human price of that story.

Fourteen states, including South Dakota, and New York City had 200 or more deaths per 100,000 population, as of June 9, 2021.

New York City 33,328 total and 397 per 100,000
New Jersey 26,324 total and 296 per 100,000
Massachusetts 17,937 total and 260 per 100,000
Rhode Island 2,722 total and 257 per 100,000
Mississippi 7,353 total and 247 per 100,000
Arizona 17,740 total and 244 per 100,000
Connecticut 8,261 total and 232 per 100,000
Alabama 11,272 total and 230 per 100,000
Louisiana 10,648 total and 229 per 100,000
South Dakota 2,026 total and 229 per 100,000
Pennsylvania 27,457 total and 214 per 100,000
Michigan 20,720 total and 207 per 100,000
New Mexico 4,297 total and 205 per 100,000
Indiana 13,714 total and 204 per 100,000
Illinois 25,452 total and 201 per 100,000

Seven states had less than 100 deaths per 100,000 population, as of June 9, 2021.

Washington 5,815 total and 76 per 100,000
Utah 2,319 total and 72 per 100,000
Oregon 2,726 total and 65 per 100,000
Maine 845 total and 63 per 100,000
Alaska 366 total and 50 per 100,000
Vermont 256 total and 41 per 100,000
Hawaii 503 total and 36 per 100,000

All of South Dakota’s neighbors had less deaths per 100,000 than South Dakota did.

North Dakota 1,520 total and 199 per 100,000

Iowa 6,097 total and 197 per 100,000

Montana 1,641 total and 154 per 100,000

Minnesota 7,589 total and 135 per 100,000

Wyoming 725 total and 125 per 100,000

Nebraska 2,256 total and 117 per 100,000

State health care officials lay some of South Dakota’s large numbers of deaths related to COVID-19 on the relatively high proportion of people age 65 and older who live in nursing homes. Approximately 3.6% of that age group reside there and 897 of the deaths occurred among them.

The CDC showed five states in the darkest shade on its national map of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population Monday. North Dakota with 110,426 total was worst at 14,490 per 100,000. Next was Rhode Island with 152,213 total and 14,368 per 100,000. Then came South Dakota with 124,335 total and 14,055 per 100,000. Utah followed at 409,007 total and 12,758 per 100,000, then Tennessee with 865,085 total and 12,668 per 100,000.

Among South Dakota’s other neighbors for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population:

Iowa 372,398 total and 11,803 per 100,000

Nebraska 223,792 total and 11,569 per 100,000

Minnesota 603,466 total and 10,700 per 100,000

Wyoming 61,114 total and 10,560 per 100,000

Montana 112,761 total and 10,550 per 100,000

On vaccination rates, South Dakota has slipped from its early status as a national front-runner to now middle of the pack.

South Dakota ranked 25th among states for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with 383,451 as of June 10. That was 43.34% of the population.

By comparison, Minnesota was 15th with 2,702,368 or 47.92%; Iowa 21st with 1,427,923 or 45.26%; Nebraska 24th with 846,814 or 43.78%; Montana 30th with 429,634 or 40.2%; North Dakota 37th with 283,113 or 37.15%; and Wyoming 47th with 188,762 or 32.61%.

The top five states for percentages of fully vaccinated populations were Vermont 59.81%, Maine 57.21%, Massachusetts 57.13%, Connecticut 56.08% and Rhode Island 53.81%. 

The lowest five were Mississippi 28.05%, Alabama 29.78%, Arkansas 32.14%, Louisiana 32.24% and Wyoming 32.61%.