Dear Gov. Kristi Noem:
All of us have seen the small clip from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, in which he makes a simple plea:
“… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
I mention this because of the important and fitting sentiment on which that statement is based. JFK certainly wasn’t exaggerating when he made this request to all of the American people. What can be more important than doing all you can for the good of a nation we all cherish?
It is within this context that I request you briefly set aside your no mask policy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States and after a year now, is continuing to take a toll on South Dakota.
In early December, then President-elect Biden said he would ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Such a move, I know, is a notable shift from the skepticism shown by our former president when it comes to mask wearing. The skepticism shown by him and also by you of mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. In turn, many people across the nation remain reticent to embrace a practice that public health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed, as I write this, more than 445,000 Americans and nearly 1,800 South Dakotans.
You mentioned during one of your several press conferences about COVID-19 that the initial models showed that across the nation and here in South Dakota, it would be wise to prepare for case numbers and hospital bed use much higher than what we’ve actually experienced.
Thank goodness those early estimates weren’t accurate. There’s a reason the numbers were off – very little was known about COVID-19 when it became clear in March that it had arrived in South Dakota and that we must prepare for it.
The data at that time wasn’t clear about mask wearing, either. First, health officials said we shouldn't wear face masks. Then, they said we should. Back in July, health experts were strongly recommending that yes, we must wear masks if we want to protect the economy, keep schools open and save tens of thousands of lives.
"If we all wore face coverings for the next four, six, eight, 12 weeks across the nation, this virus transmission would stop," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last July.
That was a sentiment our former president rejected. So did you.
At a press conference last July in Sioux Falls, you said you were reading all of the data concerning COVID-19 and its mitigation and you noted that the CDC had been changing its recommendations quite consistently.
“The mask situation with kids and adults is very much mixed research,” you said, “and the science has not proven what’s effective and what isn’t and what type of mask.”
You suggested that the most helpful thing that we all could is wash our hands. Washing hands is a good idea, but so is mask wearing. You and I have been able to read about the effectiveness of masks on the CDC’s web page here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html#evidence-effectiveness
When you click on that link, you’ll find this statement: “CDC continues to study the effectiveness of different types of masks and update our recommendations as new scientific evidence becomes available.” Science has not disproven the effectiveness of masks. Health care experts say we all should wear them."
When looking at COVID-19 data on the South Dakota Department of Health’s web page, I found this: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
It’s an even more up-to-date link (by a few days) from the CDC that states that wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowds are three of the most important things you and I can do to help slow the spread of the virus.
I know wearing a mask will likely be challenging for you, given the fact that you’ve not really practiced any of the three things listed above. We’ve seen the photos you’ve posted on social media this past summer of you, shoulder to shoulder with people at events in South Dakota and elsewhere. The photos and video posted on your twitter feed last weekend of your visit to the Black Hills Stock Show show a disregard of mitigation that you’ve consistently demonstrated for this past year.
During his presidential campaign, Biden frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a “patriotic duty." He floated the idea of instituting a nationwide mask mandate and later acknowledged that would be beyond the ability of the president to enforce.
Effective this week, the CDC has issued an order that requires face masks to be worn by all travelers while on public transportation which includes all passengers and all personnel operating conveyances. Executive orders signed by the president require masks when at other places, too, such as national parks.
“On the first day I'm inaugurated, I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days. And I think we'll see a significant reduction” in the virus, Biden said back in December.
In another interview that month, he said, "Please, I implore you, wear a mask, do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together.”
Gov. Noem, please drop the wishy-washy rhetoric of simply saying, “Wear a mask if you want to.” That’s not a health directive – it’s more of a non-health policy.
I know asking you to sign a mask mandate that only lasts approximately three months is asking too much – even though it makes a great deal of sense.
But please, for the next 100 days, join President Biden in strongly and consistently asking your fellow South Dakotans to mask up. Get in step with the president.
Remember JFK’s words, governor? “…ask what you can do for your country.”
I don’t think this is asking for too much.