South Dakota Gov. Noem unveils ‘back to normal’ plan, says it places power in ‘hands of the people’

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday mapped out a plan for getting the state “back to normal,” amid the coronavirus outbreak, a plan that she said emphasizes personal responsibility instead of government orders.

Later, the Republican governor – who drew criticism from Democrats and others for never issuing a statewide stay-at-home-order -- talked about her plan during an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity.”

“In South Dakota we didn’t close any businesses,” Noem told host Sean Hannity. “We didn’t do any shelter-in-place.”

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Noem previously stated that she opposed government-ordered safety measures because they infringed on citizens’ personal freedoms – and preferred informing the public so they could decide for themselves whether to follow recommendations or not.

“I trusted my people, they trusted me to make decisions that were best for us, and they’ve just done an absolute fantastic job,” Noem told Hannity. “That’s why my plan is not a reopening plan, it’s a back-to-normal plan.

“I trusted my people, they trusted me to make decisions that were best for us, and they’ve just done an absolute fantastic job.”

— South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

“We’re working our way back towards getting the life in South Dakota that we love again -- and I’m giving them guidance to do that.”

Earlier in the day, Noem said her “Back to Normal Plan” would kick in when South Dakota achieves several specific criteria, according to the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls.

According to the plan, the state must show a downward trajectory of coronavirus cases for 14 days, with no clusters posing a risk to the public; must have adequate hospital capacity to treat all patients, not just those with the virus, and must have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and a testing program for medical staff; and state officials must be able to rapidly investigate the contain cases of the virus.

"I am not announcing any new government programs, more red tape, more prescriptive phases or tight controls,” Noem said, according to the Argus Leader. “That is not South Dakota. Rather, the plan I'm unveiling today puts the power into the hands of the people where it belongs.”

Hannity asked Noem how South Dakota managed to keep businesses such as restaurants operating despite the presence of the virus within the state’s borders.

“We encouraged them to have less than 10 people in their dining rooms, in their facilities, and to focus on delivery and carry out,” Noem responded.

‘’What we’ve told them today when I unveiled my Back to Normal plan, was that I asked them to ensure physical distancing within their facilities to make sure that they had a rigorous sanitation [and] cleanliness protocol that they followed – and I think that our folks in South Dakota are ready to do that.

“They don’t mind taking extra measures and steps if we’re giving them the opportunity to look at their specific situation and make adjustments that use common sense,” Noem added. “I think that’s the difference and the example that our people have set and I’m proud of them.”

“They don’t mind taking extra measures and steps if we’re giving them the opportunity to look at their specific situation and make adjustments that use common sense.”

— South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

Hannity also asked Noem about the state’s Smithfield meat-packing plant, which has been the site of a coronavirus cluster – giving critics ammunition against Noem’s decision not to close businesses and impose a stay-at-home order.

The plant later closed temporarily, but Noem told Hannity it may reopen soon.

“We’re hopeful that within a matter of days that the plant could be back up and running, safely, protecting its employees but also contributing to our national security,” Noem said.

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“This is a critical-infrastructure business, we need it online to feed the people in this country and it’s incredibly important. We’re working with Smithfield. The ball’s in their court. We’re hoping that within a couple of days they could potentially get this plant going.”

Two counties in the state – Minnehaha and Lincoln -- are currently under an executive order requiring residents vulnerable to coronavirus, such as those age 65 or older and those with chronic health conditions, to stay home through May 11.

As of late Tuesday, South Dakota had more than 2,300 confirmed cases of the virus and 11 deaths.