March 4, 2022
They say hindsight is 20-20. Looking back at the year 2020 in hindsight, we now can say that South Dakota consistently made the right decisions during the pandemic. After all, our path has led us to the strongest economy in America, and we took care of people along the way. But with the two-year anniversary of COVID in South Dakota coming up, I want to dive deeper into how I made those pandemic-related decisions at the time I made them – without the benefit of hindsight.
Melissa Klemann, our long-time health policy advisor, walked into a staff meeting on March 10 of that year and informed me that the first COVID cases had arrived, as well as our first COVID-related death. The news was bleak, and we did not know what was next.
I focused on what we did know. We had prepared for the virus for nearly two months. Our emergency operations center would help us monitor the situation and keep South Dakotans informed. And I knew that we would get through this if we worked together.
I stayed focused on what my authority as Governor was – and that, most importantly, I did not have the authority to close our state down. I advised the people of South Dakota to stay home if they were able, but we did not mandate it. On that first day, I said, “I encourage all South Dakotans to take this seriously. Now is the time to prepare and stay informed.”
As the weeks passed, I focused on absorbing new information. I talked to medical professionals, my state epidemiologist, my general counsel, and other constitutional attorneys. I spent countless hours on the phone – and I hate talking on the phone! I kept gathering science, facts, and data because I knew the people of South Dakota were looking to me as their elected leader for guidance.
We focused on Facts – not Fear. And over the next two years, we stayed true to that approach. We were the only state to never order a single business or church to close. The results speak for themselves.
Those decisions were not easy – but they were simple. They were built on my trust in the people of South Dakota and on the principles that built our great nation.
In the two years since, we have seen new variants of the virus come and go. As tends to happen as viruses mutate, COVID has become more transmissible over time – but it has also become less deadly. We have developed treatments and therapeutics. Vaccines became available in record time. And we have learned to adapt the virus – though it took other states much longer to figure that out than South Dakota.
On that first day, I was asked, “How should South Dakotans handle this moving forward?” Today, the answer to that question is straightforward: exactly as we have been. New variants may come in the future. New variants of the flu come every year, too.
I hope that other states can look to South Dakota and realize that they do not have to go too far when responding to any future variants. We have set an example that other states should follow. We have the strongest economy and the best educational outcomes of any state, and we have taken care of people along the way. We balanced freedom and personal responsibility. We focused on Facts – not Fear. In hindsight, I am glad that we did.