South Dakota Throws Parade for Governor Kristi Noem Who Declined to Shut Her State Amid Pandemic

Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem had an impromptu parade thrown in her honor on Tuesday in the capitol city of Pierre. A local construction company organized the parade to show appreciation for her handling of the coronavirus epidemic.

Noem, the state's first female governor, was one of a handful of governors not to issue an order shuttering non-essential businesses during the ongoing epidemic.

The parade, organized by John Morris of Morris Inc. construction company, featured "literally hundreds of cars," fire trucks and other vehicles honking their horns and sirens while Noem watched, apparently surprised, from a local park.

Governor Noem shared video of the event on her Twitter account along with the words, "I am so blessed to serve the people of the great State of South Dakota. You folks made my day!"

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Morris told Newsweek that he and his wife came up with the parade as a way to let the governor to know that state residents support her.

"We just felt bad that the leadership of our state was kind of getting lambasted for her decision [not to close the state]. In South Dakota when somebody's getting discouraged or down on their luck, that's what we do: We step up for each other."

Morris and his wife reportedly organized the parade by sending out "hundreds of text messages" to local friends and business owners. By one of his employee's count, roughly 230 vehicles participated, driving a four-block route from a local high school, past the governor's residence to the capitol building.

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He said that drivers by asked him and his employees whether they could drive in the procession as well to show their support. The governor was notified by a member of her staff who Morris contacted. "We wanted it to be a surprise," Morris said, "It was a great showing for our governor. It's tough times... but she's been an amazing leader."

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem
Kristi Noem, now the Republican governor of South Dakota, speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC), on February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty

On March 10, Noem confirmed five state residents had tested positive for coronavirus. One of the individuals had preexisting health conditions that led to their death. "The cases are travel-related," Noem declared at the time.

"Without panicking, I encourage all South Dakotans to take this seriously," Noem said during the March 10 press conference, noting that she had no plans to declare a state of emergency.

Instead of shuttering businesses statewide, Noem ordered nonessential businesses to allow employees to work from home, placed a limit on social gatherings, required restaurants to offer take-out options only, and instructed people over the age of 60 and other vulnerable groups to take extreme precautions throughout the epidemic.

At the time, Noem said restaurants and bar closures weren't necessary in the state because South Dakota hadn't experienced a community spread of the virus.

But on Sunday, April 12, the Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota closed indefinitely after becoming a coronavirus hotspot.

By April 15, the state had reported 545 cases linked to the plant, with 438 employees testing positive and 107 additional cases from individuals who had contact with those employees. At the time, the cases linked to the plant represented 55 percent of the state's total cases.

Thus far, South Dakota has had 2,245 confirmed coronavirus cases and 11 deaths. It ranks 41st among the 50 U.S. states for the highest number of cases.

On Monday, April 13, Noem announced that her state would be the first U.S. state to hold statewide clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for coronavirus

On April 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine "have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19," adding that the medications can cause "serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems," especially when used outside of a hospital setting.

South Dakota Throws Parade for Governor Kristi Noem Who Declined to Shut Her State Amid Pandemic | U.S.