MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he wishes the neighboring Dakotas would take more aggressive steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, singling out South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for criticism.
Walz made the comments Tuesday during a news conference in St. Paul where he announced new restrictions on bars, restaurants and gatherings in Minnesota. He lamented that Minnesota is catching up with the Dakotas, which lead the country in new cases per capita.
The Democratic governor said he’s not blaming neighboring states for that, but he said this summer’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota was “absolutely unnecessary,” and that data shows it helped spread the virus beyond that state. Singling out Noem, who is a Republican, he said he wishes the state would have canceled the rally and imposed a statewide mask mandate, as Minnesota has.
“And this one’s a little bit personal because the governor of South Dakota has taken to traveling to other states and criticizing others — now at a time when that state’s hospital capacity is overwhelmed,” Walz said.
Noem has repeatedly said she won’t issue a statewide mask requirement and has voiced doubts about health experts who say face coverings prevent infections from spreading. She has used her refusal to issue mandates to become a rising star among conservatives, and her travels to presidential proving grounds like New Hampshire and Iowa are fueling speculation that she is eyeing a 2024 run for president.
A spokesman for Noem, Ian Fury, said in a statement Wednesday that Walz was wrong about South Dakota’s hospital situation. He pointed out that the state’s COVID-19 website shows that 36% of South Dakota’s hospital capacity is free, with beds available throughout the state. However, South Dakota health officials acknowledged Tuesday that they include intensive care unit beds designed for infants in their total count of hospital beds available in the state.
Fury also pointed to comments made by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday in Pierre, where he said South Dakotans don’t need a mandate to do the right thing and wear them voluntarily.
“Governor Noem has provided her people with all of the science, facts, and data, and then trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones,” Fury said. “She will be continuing that approach.”
By contrast, in North Dakota, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said this week that his state’s hospitals are under “enormous pressure” from surging COVID-19 cases. He has pleaded with people to wear masks and praised communities that have mandated them, but has avoided requiring masks himself.