For a guy who doles out Pinocchios in his work as “Fact Checker” for The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler had no problem tweeting a story that could have used a bit of his supposed lie-detecting expertise without scrutiny.
In a Tuesday tweet, Kessler shared a story about an outbreak of coronavirus in South Dakota that blamed GOP Gov. Kristi Noem, who has remained against a statewide stay-at-home order.
Kessler confidently declared, “it was ever thus –> South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots.”
it was ever thus –> South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots. https://t.co/VPxEHrlDiW
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) April 14, 2020
The piece Kessler shared was published in The Washington Post on Monday and ran with the headline, “South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots.”
The story’s author, reporter Griff Witte, predicated this argument on the fact that the amount of cases in the state has increased significantly.
While it is true that the number of cases has been growing, the evidence doesn’t exactly support the “one of the largest hot spots” moniker.
The total amount of infected residents in South Dakota is 1,168 as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins, but total coronavirus infections nationwide is over 600,000, making the state’s share of coronavirus infections 0.19 percent of the total cases in the U.S.
Do you think that Noem is right not to implement stay-at-home orders?
81% (88 Votes)
19% (21 Votes)
Looking at it another way, the Census Bureau pegged South Dakota’s 2019 population at 884,659, so that comes to about 0.13 percent of the population of the state infected.
Compare that to New York state, which has a reported population of 19,453,561 and 214,454 cases, meaning 1.1 percent of the state’s population is infected.
Maybe South Dakota is more like a “lukewarm spot,” at least for now. Is it fair to compare a densely populated place like New York to a relatively sparse one like South Dakota? Probably not, but that is precisely the point the governor made when choosing not to shut her state down.
“South Dakota is not New York City,” Witte cited Noem as saying in a recent news conference.
Another point to consider is that one of the major sources of the outbreak, the Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, would have been exempted from such an order, as components of the food supply chain have been deemed essential in many states.
Witte cited the number of infected people coming from that plant as over 300. That number has since climbed to 640, according to a Wednesday report in The New York Times, making the location a significant share of South Dakota’s infections.
Noem herself made the same point in a series of tweets reacting to the accusation that her failure to close the state had caused the increase.
“We trusted South Dakotans to exercise personal responsibility to keep themselves and their loved-ones healthy,” she wrote Wednesday. “They’ve stepped up to the challenge.”
“But some folks in the national press are improperly conflating that decision with the situation at Smithfield,” she continued.
“Let’s be perfectly clear: a shelter-in-place order would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening. They are a critical infrastructure business,” Noem accurately pointed out.
“They are part of the nation’s food supply chain and contribute to South Dakota’s role feeding the country and the world.”
Let’s be perfectly clear: a shelter-in-place order would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening.
They are a critical infrastructure business. They are part of the nation’s food supply chain and contribute to South Dakota’s role feeding the country and the world. (2/4)
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) April 15, 2020
Members of the establishment media have been ready to pounce on Republican elected officials for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, seeing it as an opportunity to blame conservative values for the spread of the disease.
Noem is correct: Her state is not even close to being like New York City and her handling of the pandemic makes the case for federalism, as each state should handle such decisions as locally as possible.
States are unique in size, population distribution and type of economy, all of which impact the way its citizens interact and spread diseases, making liberals’ top-down solutions to everything the exact wrong approach.
The governor may decide to change course in the future based on emerging data, but as it stands now, it appears a stay-at-home order would have done little more than harm the economy.
If a Democrat were in charge of the state instead, one wonders how many Pinocchios the “hot spot” narrative would have received.
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.