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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Gov. Kristi Noem claimed Monday that South Dakota has given the rest of the country an example of how to navigate a pandemic without heavy-handed government mandates.
During a special legislative session in Pierre, Noem told lawmakers that while her resistance to statewide stay-at-home orders has drawn criticism, it's also provided a different approach to managing the pandemic than those taken in other states.
"As you all might imagine, these last seven months have been quite lonely at times," Noem said. "But earlier this week, one very prominent national reporter sent me a note that said: 'Governor, if you hadn't stood against lockdowns, we'd have no proof of just how useless they really have been.'"
Noem spoke after South Dakota's worst month yet during the pandemic. The Mount Rushmore State has consistently broken records in recent weeks for new and active cases, hospitalizations and the number of people killed by COVID-19.
"If we keep failing to take this pandemic seriously, 200,000 more lives will be lost by the end of this year," said Dennis Carroll, who led the pandemic unit at the federal Agency for International Development for nearly 15 years. "Fact-denying rhetoric from the president and the South Dakota governor only ensures these deaths will come. Even with better treatments."
South Dakota received $1.25 billion in federal funds through the CARES Act to provide some relief for those hurt by the pandemic. While Noem has marked hundreds of millions for local and state governments and schools, nearly $600 million remains untapped.
Legislators serving on the Joint Committee on Appropriations last week adopted formal recommendations to create multiple grant programs for various industries, including business, healthcare and tourism.
The CARES Act funds can be used to cover coronavirus-related expenses and to stimulate the local economy. They must be spent by Dec. 30, according to language in the law.
Noem has voiced a desire for Congress to loosen framework for CARES Act funds and potentially extend the deadline. She told lawmakers Monday they should be mindful of that if and when votes are cast on the committee's recommendations.
"I’ll keep pushing Congress to provide greater flexibility, especially as it relates to this deadline," she said. "But that’s why whatever you adopt should be flexible. It should account for whether Congress acts or doesn’t act.
Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Gov. Kristi Noem claims South Dakota has shown lockdowns are 'useless'