Dem Woman and Noem

Monday, South Dakota Democratic Party Vice Chair Nikki Gronli, left, accused Gov. Kristi Noem of treating COVID-19 ‘deaths as a joke.’ Noem’s spokesperson called this critique ‘shameful.’

(Updated from original online version)

The national average for new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents during the last seven days is 17.9.

For South Dakota, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday showed this statistic at 82.9.

That means South Dakota’s infection rate for the last week is about 4.6 times the U.S. average. The only state seeing COVID-19 grow faster per 100,000 people is North Dakota, which has 98.1 coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents.

So, what does a shirt have to do with this?Although their current numbers are quite small in comparison to their Republican counterparts, South Dakota Democrats are now calling out Gov. Kristi Noem for her response to COVID-19.

“The governor continues to push super-spreader events, like the upcoming Sportsman Showcase, even after the Sturgis Rally has been tied to numerous cases and a death,” South Dakota Democratic Party Vice Chair Nikki Gronli said via a Monday news release.

“Our health care workers are exhausted and South Dakotans are dying daily. I can’t believe she’s treating these deaths as a joke. This is truly tasteless,” Gronli added.

More specifically, Gronli and South Dakota Democratic Executive Director Pam Cole criticized Noem for some recent Twitter posts. On Sunday, Noem issued the following tweet: “Less COVID, more hunting. Get your Team Noem swag today at Store.KristiforGovernor.com.”

This link leads to Noem’s website where one can purchase the “Less COVID, more hunting” shirt.

“Our governor is more concerned about personal gain than supporting South Dakota citizens during this tough time,” Gronli said.

The Capital Journal reached out to Noem Policy Director Maggie Seidel and spokesman Ian Fury for response to the Democrats’ comments.

“The point of the shirt (and the video associated with it) is that we’re all very seriously working toward a time when we’re past COVID,” Seidel said. There’s nothing partisan about this message, and for the Democrats to turn it into a political attack is shameful.”

“Governor Noem has always taken this virus seriously, while trusting South Dakotans to exercise their personal responsibility to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” Fury added. “Hunting is a great way for South Dakotans to enjoy themselves, practice social distancing, and spend time outdoors, where COVID is less likely to spread.”

Monday, the South Dakota Department of Health confirmed a state record 8,388 active coronavirus cases for the state. This means nearly 1% of South Dakota’s 884,659 residents are infected with COVID-19 right now.

“There are communities struggling to keep businesses and schools open while [Noem] pretends this pandemic doesn’t exist. That’s unacceptable,” Gronli added.

Though Noem responded to the Capital Journal only through Seidel and Fury on Monday, she did add an additional tweet regarding the shirts.

“Did you pick up your shirt yet? They’re going fast!,” Noem tweeted late Monday.

Noem added on Tuesday: “Not sure why Democrats think these T-shirts are controversial. Do they want more COVID?”

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