President Donald Trump remains relatively popular in deep red South Dakota after winning the state’s three Electoral College votes by 30 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If there is anywhere Trump may be more popular than he is in South Dakota, it might be West Virginia. There in 2016, Trump defeated Clinton by an astounding 41 points.

Both states are well-known for country life, where gun ownership rates exceed the national average. While South Dakota has far more farmers than coal miners or factory workers, a spirit of grit, hard work and independence permeates the culture of both states.

However, there now seems to be one key difference in the two states. On Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, issued an order that mandates the residents to wear masks while inside indoor public places amid the battle against COVID-19.

On Thursday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, also a Republican, reemphasized her position that there should be no mask mandate. Noem did so in responding to a question on Twitter: “Should there be a national mask mandate?”

“No. People should have the freedom to wear masks if it makes them feel safe, but the science on masks is very mixed,” Noem tweeted.

This followed last week’s declaration from Noem that there would be no social distancing during the Independence Day fireworks display at Mount Rushmore.

The Data

The data below are compiled from the South Dakota Department of Health, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the U.S. Census Bureau. The COVID numbers were effective as of Thursday evening.

South Dakota:

  • COVID tests administered -- 87,310
  • Confirmed COVID cases -- 7,336
  • COVID deaths -- 101
  • Population -- 884,659
  • Persons per square mile (population density) -- 10.7
  • Percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance -- 11.6%

West Virginia:

  • COVID tests administered -- 195,955
  • Confirmed COVID cases -- 3,751
  • COVID deaths -- 95
  • Population -- 1,792,147
  • Persons per square mile (population density) -- 77.1
  • Percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance -- 7.9%


If the information provided by both states is correct, it means that West Virginia has double the population of South Dakota, and has administered more than twice the number of COVID-19 tests, yet has only about half the number of confirmed COVID infections South Dakota has.

In other words, based on only the data that are assumed to be accurate, the likelihood of someone in South Dakota getting COVID-19 is higher than the likelihood of someone in West Virginia getting it.

This is somewhat offset by West Virginia’s population density being much higher than South Dakota’s. In other words, because West Virginia has more people in a smaller area, their likelihood of contracting COVID-19 would be higher in comparison to those in South Dakota.

Moving Forward

“I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s not going to be much of an inconvenience,” Justice said upon announcing West Virginia’s mask requirement. “If you don't decide to wear the face covering for yourself, if you don’t decide to wear it for one of your loved ones or your friends, do it for the 95 West Virginians that have died, do it for the 95 people that we’ve lost.”

Despite Noem’s independence, her own Department of Health maintains the following phase very clearly on its website: “Everyone should wear a cloth face cover in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

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