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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem defends coronavirus strategy amid surge

South Dakota governor at RNC
South Dakota governor at RNC 05:21

Facing the nation's second-most coronavirus cases per capita over the last two weeks, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem defended her strategy on Wednesday as a "balanced approach" that has kept the state's economy humming. The Republican governor has disparaged restrictions to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, emphasizing personal responsibility.

Over the last two weeks, South Dakota ranked second in the country for new cases per capita. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 84 in that time, an increase of about 56%, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

But in a Wednesday Fox News appearance, Noem turned attention to the pandemic's economic impacts.

"There's consequences to what we've seen happen in other states - that shutting down businesses, stopping people's way of life has some devastating impacts," Noem said. "We're taking a very balanced approach."

She highlighted that the state's tax revenues have been better than expected, with 8.7% more money coming in this fiscal year than projected.

South Dakota health officials reported 168 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, but active infections statewide decreased as people recovered. The number of active infections decreased to 2,434, but the number of people needing hospital care increased to 76. No new deaths were reported.

Noem on Wednesday laid out a proposal that would make $400 million in federal coronavirus relief funds available to businesses in the state.

The state received $1.25 billion in federal funding as part of the CARES Act to address the coronavirus crisis and legislators are conducting public hearings this month for people to weigh in how the funds should be used.

Under Noem's plan, South Dakota businesses can qualify for grants of up to $100,000 if they can demonstrate a 25% budget reduction between March and May as a result of COVID-19.

"I hope that this proposal will help folks stay open and overcome the unprecedented times we've faced these last several months, " the governor said on Twitter.

Noem's move appears to set the stage for a special legislative session this fall. She had previously told lawmakers to be patient in allocating the money, pushing for the issue to be decided in next year's legislative session. Legislative leaders had expected Congress to extend the end-of-year deadline to use the money.

The $1.25 billion must be used by Dec. 30, and the state has used about $77 million so far, according to the latest legislative report.

Last month, Noem rejected the extra unemployment benefits provided by an executive measure from President Trump. The executive measure provided an additional $300 in unemployment benefits per week, but it required states to kick in another $100. Noem said that South Dakota had recovered nearly 80% of its job losses since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Tuesday, Noem's administration announced that it is using federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for a $5 million tourism ad campaign aimed at drawing people to the state.

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