SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — As South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem pushes schools to reopen, a fundraising email from her campaign says she is discouraging school districts from requiring masks and telling parents they should send their children to school without masks.
The Republican governor made the argument for schools reopening this week, saying that research indicates the health risks are low for children. She has repeatedly cast doubt on the practicality and efficacy of wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 infections, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”
The fundraising email from Noem's campaign said, “Governor Kristi Noem will not issue a state-wide mandate for distance learning, and is encouraging all families to send their children back to school — without masks.”
South Dakota Public Broadcasting first reported on Noem's campaign email.
Noem's spokeswoman Maggie Seidel clarified the governor's position on masks on Friday, calling the email “in-artfully crafted.”
Seidel said the governor is opposed to requirements for face coverings but does not discourage people from wearing them. She pointed out that some medical experts have raised concerns about whether it is practical to have children wear masks properly for long periods of time.
The governor's opposition to requiring masks in schools defies recommendations from the South Dakota State Medical Association. Even top health officials from her administration said this week they would have their children wearing masks in school this fall. State Epidemiologist Josh Clayton said his family decided to have their children wear masks to school.
Throughout the pandemic, Noem has repeatedly said she is letting “the science, facts, and data” drive her response to the pandemic. In a column released on Friday, she said that “the science seems to suggest that teachers are unlikely to be infected by students" and claimed that most of the teachers in the state are not at a high risk to COVID-19.
More than 1,000 people younger than 19 have been confirmed to have COVID-19 during the pandemic but none has died, according to the Department of Health.
The state recorded 80 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and one new death. While 8,764 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, over 88% have recovered. 130 have died.
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