BREAKING NEWS Accused Rochester murderer has bond set at $5M, called extreme risk to the public Full Story

Dakotas lead US in virus growth as both reject mask rules

Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation.

Posted: Sep 12, 2020 12:39 PM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation, fueling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic.

The argument over masks raged this week in Brookings, South Dakota, as the city council considered requiring face coverings in businesses. The city was forced to move its meeting to a local arena to accommodate intense interest, with many citizens speaking against it, before the mask requirement ultimately passed.

Amid the brute force of the pandemic, health experts warn that the infections must be contained before care systems are overwhelmed. North Dakota and South Dakota lead the country in new cases per capita over the last two weeks, ranking first and second respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

The states have also posted some of the country's highest positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in the last week — nearly 22 percent in North Dakota — an indication that there are more infections than tests are catching.

Infections have been spurred by schools and universities reopening and mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

“It is not a surprise that South Dakota has one of the highest (COVID-19) reproduction rates in the country,” Brookings City Council member Nick Wendell said as he commented on the many people who forgo masks in public.

The Republican governors of both states have eschewed mask requirements, tapping into a spirit of independence hewn from enduring the winters and storms of the Great Plains.

The Dakotas were not always a hot spot. For months, the states appeared to avoid the worst of the pandemic, watching from afar as it raged through large cities. But spiking infection rates have fanned out across the nation, from the East Coast to the Sun Belt and now into the Midwest, where states like Iowa and Kansas are also dealing with surges.

When the case count stayed low during the spring and early summer, people grew weary of constantly taking precautions, said Dr. Benjamin Aaker, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association.

“People have a tendency to become complacent,” he said. “Then they start to relax the things that they were doing properly, and that’s when the increase in cases starts to go up."

Health officials point out that the COVID-19 case increases have been among younger groups that are not hospitalized at high rates. But infections have not been contained to college campuses.

“College students work in places where the vulnerable live, such as nursing homes,” said Dr. Joel Walz, the Grand Forks, North Dakota, city and county health officer. “Some of them are nursing students who are doing rotations where they’re going to see people who are really at risk. I worry about that.”

Over 1,000 students at the states' four largest universities (the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University and University of South Dakota) left campus to quarantine after being exposed to the virus, according to data released by the schools. The Sturgis rally also spread infections across the region, with health officials in 12 states reporting over 300 cases among people who attended the event.

But requiring masks has been controversial. In Brookings, opponents said they believed the virus threat was not as serious as portrayed and that a mandate was a violation of civil liberties.

“There are a lot of things we have in life that we have to deal with that cause death,” business owner Teresa Haldeman told the council. “We live in America, and we have certain inalienable rights.”

Though Brookings passed its ban, another hot spot — North Dakota's Morton County, just west of the capital city of Bismarck — soundly rejected a mask requirement after citizens spoke against it. Brookings may be the lone municipality with such an order in the Dakotas outside of Native American reservations, which have generally been more vigilant in adopting coronavirus precautions. Native Americans have disproportionately died from COVID-19, accounting for 24% of deaths statewide.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have resisted mask requirements. Burgum promotes personal choice but tried to encourage masks with a social media campaign. Noem has discouraged mask requirements, saying she doubts a broad consensus in the medical community that they help prevent infections.

At a press briefing, Burgum displayed a slide that showed active cases in neighboring Minnesota rising to record levels since implementing a mask mandate July 25.

"In the end, it’s about individual decisions, not what the government does," he said.

Noem, who has yet to appear at a public event with a mask, carved out a reputation as a staunch conservative when she defied calls early in the pandemic for lockdown orders.

But both governors face increasing pressure to step up their approach. North Dakota's average rate of test positivity has been nearly 22% over the last seven days, according to the the COVID Tracking Project; South Dakota's has been 17%.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told MSNBC that he found those figures “disturbing," especially as fall weather arrives and Americans begin spending more time indoors.

"You don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high,” Fauci said.

Neither governor appears ready to yield any ground.

“We will not be changing that approach,” Noem spokesman Ian Fury said Thursday, citing a low hospitalization rate and the fact that only 3% of intensive-care beds are occupied by COVID patients.

Doctors in both states warn that their health care systems remain vulnerable. Small hospitals in rural areas depend on just a handful of large hospitals to handle large inflows of patients or complex procedures, said Dr. Misty Anderson, president of the North Dakota Medical Association.

Aaker, the president of the South Dakota physician's group, said medical practices have seen patients delaying routine care during the pandemic, meaning that doctors could soon see an uptick in patients needing more serious attention.

“Now we are adding a surge in coronavirus cases potentially,” he said. "They are worried about being overwhelmed.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93012

Reported Deaths: 2040
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin26447926
Ramsey10697319
Dakota7354125
Anoka5935132
Stearns390924
Washington368955
Scott250033
Olmsted236728
Nobles195416
Blue Earth16476
Wright15737
St. Louis148039
Carver13897
Clay134040
Rice13228
Mower13125
Sherburne112514
Kandiyohi9722
Winona86318
Lyon6674
Waseca6128
Steele5332
Freeborn5323
Benton5303
Nicollet52116
Watonwan5164
Todd4872
Crow Wing48118
McLeod4752
Chisago4711
Le Sueur4524
Otter Tail4224
Beltrami4055
Martin37210
Goodhue3519
Pine3090
Itasca30314
Polk2984
Douglas2862
Isanti2790
Becker2642
Carlton2561
Cottonwood2240
Morrison2221
Dodge2180
Pipestone21710
Chippewa2061
Meeker1942
Sibley1863
Wabasha1830
Brown1822
Yellow Medicine1752
Rock1640
Cass1593
Murray1582
Mille Lacs1543
Redwood1541
Unassigned15052
Renville1427
Jackson1411
Faribault1360
Swift1271
Houston1210
Koochiching1213
Kanabec1178
Roseau1170
Pennington1161
Fillmore1110
Lincoln1080
Hubbard941
Stevens941
Pope920
Big Stone760
Aitkin751
Wadena670
Wilkin613
Grant594
Lake580
Norman530
Lac qui Parle501
Marshall501
Mahnomen461
Red Lake421
Traverse290
Clearwater270
Lake of the Woods211
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 83644

Reported Deaths: 1294
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15697261
Woodbury526363
Johnson508627
Black Hawk443688
Linn3941110
Story340517
Dubuque310141
Scott292628
Dallas275138
Pottawattamie206838
Buena Vista197212
Marshall177034
Sioux15043
Wapello131457
Webster121614
Plymouth110420
Clinton109920
Muscatine109154
Crawford10655
Cerro Gordo101821
Warren9486
Jasper81732
Des Moines7647
Marion7536
Tama70431
Henry6854
Carroll6535
Lee6207
Wright5721
Dickinson5086
Boone5008
Bremer4837
Washington45311
Louisa42815
Mahaska39119
Delaware3833
Franklin34618
Floyd3363
Jackson3303
Winneshiek3246
Hamilton3223
Clay3164
Lyon3074
Benton3061
Hardin2951
Winnebago28913
Poweshiek2788
Butler2672
Buchanan2651
Clarke2643
Jones2643
Emmet26010
Shelby2581
Allamakee2566
Kossuth2540
Chickasaw2470
Clayton2443
Sac2440
Guthrie2416
Cedar2381
Cherokee2352
Grundy2193
Madison2122
Fayette2112
Harrison2073
Iowa1981
Mitchell1880
Howard1866
Humboldt1843
Palo Alto1830
Calhoun1793
Hancock1772
Mills1771
Cass1602
Monroe15710
Pocahontas1562
Lucas1536
Page1530
Osceola1510
Monona1451
Jefferson1371
Appanoose1333
Union1283
Taylor1271
Davis1244
Ida1151
Van Buren1131
Fremont1100
Keokuk1051
Worth1040
Greene990
Montgomery905
Wayne852
Audubon811
Adair691
Decatur670
Ringgold492
Adams330
Unassigned40
Rochester
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Mason City
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 74°
Albert Lea
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 75°
Austin
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 73°
Charles City
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 75°
Tracking more warmth before cooler weather arrives for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events