U.S. Surgeon General to South Dakota: ‘Do the right thing,’ mask up, follow guidelines
PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The United States' top medical officer spoke in Pierre Tuesday with a message urging South Dakotans to follow health and safety guidelines to slow the coronavirus, characterizing the spread of the virus as “out of control” in South Dakota and beyond.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams spoke at the National Guard Armory in Pierre, where the Department of Health launched the first of many community COVID-19 mass testing sites Tuesday. He appeared alongside South Dakota Adjutant General Jeffrey Marlette and South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon.
Both Marlette and Adams spoke to the sacrifice that South Dakota National Guardsmen and their civilian employers had to make as a result of staffing the mass testing sites. “We have about 200 Guardsmen that are in support of the Department of Health, there is some employer somewhere sacrificing in their workplace to support us and to support South Dakota.” Marlette said. General Marlette said this is the longest continuous period of state active duty in South Dakota National Guard history, since the pandemic began in March.
Adams stressed the “3-Ws” in his address - wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance - though he spent nearly all his speech expounding on the importance of face coverings.
The wearing of face masks has been a heated topic of debate in South Dakota since the pandemic began. Governor Kristi Noem has long opposed any sort of mask mandate in the state, saying she trusts South Dakotans with their own health decisions.
During his address, Adams said he would encourage states to do “whatever it takes” to encourage people to follow health guidelines, adding that there is science out there that suggests states with mandates have had more success in getting citizens to mask up. However, he said people should not need a mandate to “do the right thing.”
“You don’t have a mask mandate here," Adams said. "But what I would say to people of South Dakota, is you really shouldn’t need a mandate to do the right thing for your community, your family, and your friends.”
While Gov. Noem has said people should wear masks “when appropriate,” she has been cool to publicly encourage widespread use of masks and is rarely seen wearing one herself. She previously said that science is not clear on masks, noting that the U.S. Surgeon General himself “flip-flopped” on mask usage early on in the pandemic. Adams addressed that particular point Tuesday.
“As many of you know, even I have changed my position on masks. But that’s because the science has changed,” Adams said. “Unlike other respiratory viruses, we now know up to 50% of people can spread this virus without symptoms.”
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Adams touched on several positive notes during his address, noting Pfizer just recently announced progress in its vaccine development. He said he anticipates officials will be ready to begin giving vaccines to the public late this year or early 2021, with wide-spread availability coming later.
A “new normal” may be possible by late spring or early summer, Adams said. However, he urged people to continue to follow health guidelines in the meantime to limit the effects of the coronavirus and keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed. Adams defined a new normal as world weary of what they had just lived through, more handwashing, more sick days, more everyday precaution around illnesses that aren’t the coronavirus.
“We can stay open, but the way we stay open is by following health public measures," Adams said. "Which is why I’m out here in South Dakota, across the country, away from my family, pleading with the people of South Dakota, to go to the state’s Department of Health website. Look at the numbers, understand that they’re going out of control. And not just here, but across the country. That we’re worried about hospitalizations going up. Understand that we’re almost to a vaccine. We’re tired, but a finish line is in sight.”
“It is a critical moment as we see cases, hospitalizations, and deaths start to rise. I was in Rosebud yesterday, and their hospital emergency room was completely packed. They are expanding even more into the hospital.” Adams said.
Adams said some parts of the world have already progressed without a vaccine.
“I also want to remind people that Asia is open for business right now, and they don’t have a vaccine,” Adams said. “They’ve been able to do it with basic public health measures.”
Throughout his address, Adams returned to a common theme - “Do the right thing” - and do what you can to help fight COVID-19.
“What I would say to governors, is think about your citizenry, and do all you can to follow these public health measures," Adams said, when asked about what he would tell governors and other leaders about how to respond to the pandemic. "By coming here today, and helping people understand that cases are rising, that whether or not there’s a mask mandate in South Dakota - that more people will do the right thing, and get us to a vaccine.”
A portion of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams' address is below
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