SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation, fueling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic.
The argument over masks raged this week in Brookings, South Dakota, as the city council considered requiring face coverings in businesses. The city was forced to move its meeting to a local arena to accommodate intense interest, with many citizens speaking against it, before the mask requirement ultimately passed.
Amid the brute force of the pandemic, health experts warn that the infections must be contained before care systems are overwhelmed. North Dakota and South Dakota lead the country in new cases per capita over the last two weeks, ranking first and second respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
South Dakota has also posted some of the country’s highest positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in the last week — over 17 percent — an indication that there are more infections than tests are catching.
Infections have been spurred by schools and universities reopening and mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.
“It is not a surprise that South Dakota has one of the highest (COVID-19) reproduction rates in the country,” Brookings City Council member Nick Wendell said as he commented on the many people who forgo masks in public.
The Republican governors of both states have eschewed mask requirements, tapping into a spirit of independence hewn from enduring the winters and storms of the Great Plains.