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Data show South Dakota's COVID infection rate nearly 4 times higher than West Virginia's

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Justice and Noem

On Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who presides over a state President Donald Trump won by 40 points in 2016, established an indoor face covering requirement amid the war against COVID-19. Meanwhile, Gov. Kristi Noem typically eschews wearing a mask or social distancing amid the battle against COVID-19, while declining to establish a statewide requirement for such.

A compilation of data by the Capital Journal shows that South Dakota’s COVID-19 infection rate is nearly four times higher than West Virginia’s — yet while West Virginia’s Republican governor imposed an indoor face covering mandate this week, South Dakota’s fiercely resists such action.

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, however, it might be West Virginia. There in 2016, Trump defeated Clinton by an astounding 41 points.

Both states are well-known for country life, as places where gun ownership rates exceed the national average. While South Dakota has far more farmers than coal miners or factory workers — and West Virginia is known for mountains rather than prairies — the 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 issued the order masks to be worn while inside indoor public places amid the COVID battle.

On Thursday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem 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.

Raw Data

The data below are mined 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 Friday evening.

South Dakota:

Trump’s 2016 victory spread over Clinton: 30 points

COVID tests administered — 88,542

Confirmed COVID cases — 7,401

COVID deaths — 107

Population — 884,659

Persons per square mile (population density) — 10.7

Percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance — 11.6%

West Virginia:

Trump’s 2016 victory spread over Clinton: 41 points

COVID tests administered — 199,383

Confirmed COVID cases — 3,882

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 the following:

COVID-19 infection rate:

South Dakota — 1 of every 120 residents has been infected.

West Virginia — 1 of every 462 residents has been infected.

This means that South Dakota’s COVID-19 infection rate is nearly four times higher than West Virginia’s.

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 tighter area, their likelihood of contracting COVID-19 would be higher in comparison to those in South Dakota.

“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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