Kristi Noem’s big bet: How COVID-19 challenged South Dakota’s governor
The state had yet to be hit by an explosion of the virus. But it expected one. Its modeling showed an overwhelming surge arriving in mid-June, one that would require 5,000 hospital beds, far more than the state had.
Many other states’ governors were fighting the pandemic by instituting lockdowns, a bludgeon of a policy meant to slow the spread of a relatively unknown virus and protect beleaguered hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with critically ill patients.
The first-term Republican governor of South Dakota took a different approach. There would be no statewide restrictions, she said, no lockdowns. South Dakota was not New York City, she said.
Here, it seemed, was Noem’s gamble. She would hope South Dakota policed themselves, count on the state's dispersed population to limit the spread of the virus, and keep the state's economy open for business. Meanwhile, state officials and health system leaders would scramble to come up with the needed number of beds in time to meet the surge.