As former Vice President Joe Biden proposes a nationwide lockdown and a national mask mandate in response to resurgent coronavirus cases in several states, at least one Republican governor is promising she will not comply.
In a statement made to the Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper, Gov. Kristi Noem's office said that Biden, as president, would lack the authority to impose a nationwide mask mandate on state governments.
"It's a good day for freedom. Joe Biden realizes that the president doesn't have the authority to institute a mask mandate," Noem communications director Ian Fury said. "For that matter, neither does Governor Noem, which is why she has provided her citizens with the full scope of the science and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones."
Though Biden cannot constitutionally compel state governments to adopt a mask mandate, senior advisers on his presidential transition team reportedly say the presumptive president-elect will begin contacting governors and prominent mayors asking for local governments to impose mask requirements. Currently, 33 state governments have some sort of mask requirement for people who go out in public.
Noem, a first-term governor, has adopted a freedom first approach in response to the coronavirus pandemic in South Dakota. While many states imposed stay-at-home orders, Noem refused to implement what she's referred to as "draconian lockdowns."
"We already know that lockdowns don't stop the spread of the virus. However, they destroy small businesses and jobs, and they make it difficult for families to put food on the table," she wrote on social media Thursday.
According to the Argus leader, as of Friday 62,327 South Dakotans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and 568 have died from the virus or from complications related to it.
In an October op-ed for the Rapid City Journal, Gov. Noem explained why mandatory masking as a "one-size-fits-all approach" to combating the virus is not right for South Dakota.
"In many other places — from Los Angeles and Miami to London and Paris — cases have exploded despite the existence of mask mandates and other harsh restrictions," Noem wrote.
There are times when masks are appropriate. For example, masks are a smart precaution when caring for a symptomatic person who is coughing or sneezing. Masks are also recommended in hospital settings. Data suggest that N95 masks can be effective when worn appropriately – changed regularly, fitted properly, and not touched. But if you're alone in a park, or hunting in a field, risk of transmission is negligible, even without a mask.
Oxford's Dr. Carl Heneghan, also the editor-in-chief of British Medical Journal Evidence-Based Medicine, says: "It would appear that despite two decades of pandemic preparedness, there is considerable uncertainty as to the value of wearing masks."
Though they've flipped-flopped on this issue, even the World Health Organization wrote this summer, "the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider."
There are many others who question the effectiveness of masks, and South Dakotans should take the time to read this information so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families. As I've said before, if folks want to wear a mask, they should be free to do so. Similarly, those who don't want to wear a mask shouldn't be shamed into wearing one. And government should not mandate it. We need to respect each other's decisions – in South Dakota, we know a little common courtesy can go a long way.