South Dakota gripped by coronavirus pandemic as governor resists mandate

Coronavirus pandemic grips South Dakota
Coronavirus pandemic grips South Dakota 01:32

South Dakota has reported more COVID-19 deaths per capita over the last week than anywhere else in the country, and it has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In Sioux Falls, mask-wearing is now mandatory, said Mayor Paul TenHaken — but there's no enforcement behind it. 

"If you if you think that the enforcement piece is going to all of a sudden create this mass level of compliance that isn't there without it, that's not true," the mayor said.

Nicole Knoshel, a 22-year old, wasn't wearing a mask when CBS News met her as she was about to enter a bar.

"Honestly, I am a registered nurse on a COVID unit," she said. "I do care about other people and their health as well."

Governor Kristi Noem is against mask mandates. But the state is split over how to respond to the pandemic.

The leader of the largest health system in the Dakotas doesn't agree with his medical director over whether there's a crisis.  

"It's hard for me to say we are at a crisis," Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft told CBS News.

When the medical director was asked if she would classify the situation in the Dakotas as a crisis, the response was clear: "I would."

An hour north of Sioux Falls, the city of Brookings reports the lowest infection rate in the state. Masks have been mandatory there since early September. 

"There are lots of folks in South Dakota, thousands of people in South Dakota, that understand the reality of what we're facing," one Brookings resident said.

Back in Sioux Falls, the mayor has taken heat for his response to questions about why so many people don't want to wear a mask. "This is cowboy country, man," TenHaken said. "And you try and tell someone to do something and they want to do the opposite." 

  • David Begnaud
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    David Begnaud is the lead national correspondent for "CBS This Morning" based in New York City.