Here’s why North Dakota, South Dakota are getting hit so hard by the coronavirus

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North Dakota has the highest coronavirus mortality rate of any U.S. state or country in mid-November, according to an analysis from the Federation of American Scientists. South Dakota, which is ranked third-worst in the world, isn’t far behind. According to Newsweek, one out of every 1,000 North Dakota residents has died of COVID-19.

The analysis examined data collected from the week of Nov. 9. Results showed that North Dakota has a coronavirus death rate of 18.2 per 1 million people. South Dakota has 17.4 deaths per 1 million people. Both states have a population of less than 1 million, and they currently have the lowest rates of mask usage in the United States.

The death rate finally urged officials in North Dakota to take action in mid-November, requiring masks in indoor settings and outdoor settings that don’t allow for physical distancing, as well as placing restrictions on businesses. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) noted that citizens must adapt to the changing situation, emphasizing individual responsibility. “We believe in North Dakotans. We believe in the power of individual responsibility,” he said. “And we need individual responsibility now more than ever to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The state’s southern neighbor is taking a starkly different approach. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), an ally of President Trump, has voiced opposition to mask mandates around the country. She has also vocally questioned the efficacy of masks. During the summer, she encouraged large-scale gatherings, like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, to proceed despite the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, said as recently as Oct. 28 that the U.S. could get the pandemic under control if “90%-95% of the U.S. population” wore face coverings in public spaces. 

Despite evidence to the contrary, Noem continues to contradict experts. “The facts are simple: Mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing, and contact tracing haven’t worked—in the United States or abroad,” Noem spokesperson Maggie Seidel told the Associated Press on Nov. 16.

On Nov. 17, the Department of Health in North Dakota reported 1,089 new positive cases and a rolling 14-day positivity rate of 15.9%, according to the Hill. South Dakota reported 821 new cases, with an active case count of 18,139. 

Experts have called coronavirus numbers out of the Dakotas “unacceptable.” Under current conditions, the total deaths in North and South Dakota could more than double by March 1, 2021, according to a model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. That could mean 3,000 more deaths between the two states. 

As of Nov. 16, North Dakota had lost 749 residents to the coronavirus pandemic, while 644 South Dakota residents have died. 

Sources: The Hill, Huffington Post, Forbes

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