SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Gov. Kristi Noem is rejecting 'mandating anything," even as COVID-19 cases in South Dakota continue to rise.

South Dakota added 268 COVID-19 cases in the past week, continuing a rise from the previous week, according to the state Department of Health on July 28.

South Dakota case count is quite low compared to the fall-winter surge that peaked at 8,000-10,000 new cases each week. But the recent uptick could indicate the pandemic isn't yet done with South Dakota.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated more than 80% of new COVID-19 cases are the delta variant. South Dakota sentinel testing has found only 13 delta variant cases in the state, up one case from last week. State health officials have said to a rise in variant cases discovered by sentinel testing indicates wider transmission.

"South Dakota's cases remain low. If you're worried about the virus, you're free to get vaccinated, wear a mask, or stay at home. But we won't be mandating anything," Noem said in a Tuesday, July 27, tweet.

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Noem also said she wouldn't be mandating or prohibiting masks in schools, and said school administrators should "remain focused" on providing in-person learning for students this fall.

"My position on mask mandates has not changed. School leaders should consider the full impact on learning and social development that masks can have on children," she said, in a series of tweets Wednesday.

Noem's tweets appeared to be a response to a Tuesday announcement by the CDC. The agency advised those vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear a mask indoors in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, as the more contagious and dangerous delta variant of the virus continues to surge across many parts of the United States.

Two months ago the CDC had said the vaccinated didn't need to wear masks indoors.

"In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that that delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters in a media call.

In South Dakota, about a third of the state's counties are considered high or substantial transmission, including some of its most populous counties, according to a CDC tracker.

In her tweet, Noem called the CDC's new advice inconsistent, although it's quite common for public health agencies to toughen recommendations as conditions worsen. The CDC's advisory is a recommendation, not a mandate.

Noem, a Republican, has made her rejection of statewide mandates during the pandemic a centerpiece of her political identity, including at numerous GOP and conservative events, speaking engagements and media appearance over the past year.

The rise in COVID-19 cases in South Dakota could be particularly worrisome because the state has yet to meet vaccination targets meant to squelch the spread of the virus, and new vaccinations have slowed to a crawl.

State health officials have said they want to vaccinate 70% of those eligible: those age 18 and up. But as of Wednesday, only 58.4% of the state has gotten at least an initial vaccination shot, an increase in half a percentage point in the last week.

The following are the South Dakota Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Wednesday, July 28, for the previous seven days. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one week to the next.

Statewide COVID-19 weekly summary

  • TOTAL CASES: 125,216 (+268)
  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 6,508 (+10)*
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 122,739 (+122)

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 2,043 (+2)

  • VACCINATION PERCENTAGE (ONE-SHOT): 58.4% (+0.5%)

  • VACCINATION PERCENTAGE (SERIES COMPLETE): 53.9% (+0.3%)

Vaccination percentages include vaccines given to South Dakota residents through both state and federal programs, including through the Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs, per the state Department of Health. The percentages are of eligible South Dakotans, those age 12 and older.

*According to the state Department of Health, the number of total hospitalizations has generally dropped in recent weeks due to reclassification due to data integrity processes determining which hospitalizations were actually due to COVID-19. Total hospitalizations have fallen 729, from 7,588 on May 28 to 6,487 hospitalizations July 14. Since then, hospitalizations have risen.

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