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Rounds to wear mask at July 3 fireworks show at Mount Rushmore
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Rounds to wear mask at July 3 fireworks show at Mount Rushmore

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Sen. Mike Rounds said that he plans to wear a mask Friday at the Mount Rushmore fireworks show that President Trump plans to attend.

“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to participate, but I’m also going to use some good old South Dakota common sense as well,” he said Tuesday. “We will do our best to keep some social distancing the best we can.”

Gov. Noem, meanwhile, said in an interview on FOX News with Laura Ingraham on Monday that there will be no social distancing at the event that is expecting 7,500 people.

“In South Dakota, we’ve told people to focus on personal responsibility. Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they’re comfortable with… We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” she told Ingraham.

Noem also said face masks will be given out at Mount Rushmore for those who want one.

Her comments come in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rippled through the state as the first cases were seen March 10. According to the Department of Health data available Wednesday, 6,826 South Dakotans have had the coronavirus and 93 have died from it.

Medical community speaks out

More than 2,000 physicians from the South Dakota State Medical Association said in a press release that they're urging state residents to be proactive and take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 as summer activities like the Mount Rushmore fireworks show and State Fair inch closer.

SDSMA President Dr. Benjamin Aaker said he wants to remind people that six feet is the proper distance to maintain social distancing. When distancing is more difficult, or for indoor gatherings, Aaker said people should wear a mask.

The SDSMA said it urges people to follow new CDC guidelines on gatherings and events:

  1. Those with a moderate risk include smaller, outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals remain six feet apart, wear face masks, do not share objects and come from the same local area.
  2. Medium-sized in-person gatherings where guests stay six feet apart and come from the local area pose a higher risk.
  3. Events with the highest risk are large in-person meetings where attendees travel from outside the local area and it is hard to maintain social distancing.

The fireworks at Mount Rushmore would fall into the third category as more than 7,500 attendees are expected, no social distancing will be enforced, and many are traveling from outside the state to attend, including residents from as far away as California who received tickets in the state's lottery.

Noem said June 4 at a press conference that there was originally a plan for social distancing at the event, but that the state didn’t choose to continue that protocol.

“What I’m going to continue to ask people to do is if you’re sick, stay home,” Noem said. “If you’re in the vulnerable population and you’re worried about the virus, then you should stay home.”

The state FAQ for the event says all participants may be subject to health-screening requirements.

Jim Hagen, tourism secretary, said the number of 7,500 attendees was agreed upon before COVID-19 with the input of the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and state and local officials.

“When the fireworks were at Rushmore before, we know at times they described it as a ‘free for all,’” Hagen said. “It was really hard to manage thousands of people at that event. That number was agreed upon by all partners, and it is a very manageable number.”

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