‘You’ve got to help us’: Doctor pleads with South Dakota governor as COVID cases explode higher

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A doctor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is begging Governor Kristi Noem to change her course of action in the fight against COVID-19.

Gov. Noem has steadfastly declined to institute a mask mandate as death totals accelerate – South Dakota reached 219 deaths in November alone, roughly a third of the state’s total deaths since the start of the pandemic.

On Monday, Noem’s Communications Director Ian Fury said in a statement, “She’ll continue trusting South Dakotans to exercise their personal responsibility to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.”

Dr. Wendell Hoffman is an infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health who has been studying the virus and has seen the effects of it in patients.

Speaking with sister station KELO-TV, he addressed the governor directly, pleading with her to change her administration’s response to the pandemic:

“Governor Noem, the people are suffering. We have 1,000 cases a day. This is not just about being in the hospital or the percentage of hospital beds. This is about the vast array of conditions that will develop from people in general getting COVID. We need to throw everything we have at it. I get that you don’t want strict lockdowns; neither do I. Those are devastating too, but we can’t just let this virus run without throwing everything we have at it. And, that means, Governor, you need to be out in front of the people and you need to encourage all of the mitigating strategies that even have the potential, including masks, which I know you have sort of said the results were mixed. I’m sorry, Governor, but all of medicine is mixed results. That’s what we do everyday. So, please we have to take a different course.”

Dr. Wendell Hoffman, infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health
COVID-19: The Cases

“Right now, we do not have a curve. We have a straight up line,” Hoffman said. He also warned of a possibly spike in influenza cases after Iowa reported a “very high” number of influenza-like illnesses in the first week of November.

Hoffman continued in the letter:

Governor, I respect the position that you have, but you must change course. You have to help the people who are suffering. This has a domino effect. It’s not just about the patients with COVID, it’s all of the patients with non-COVID illness who are being prevented from coming in because they’re afraid or because we’re being backed up by all kinds of other things. So please, please, listen to us. You’ve got to help us begin to even change this trajectory. And, as I’ve said, this is not a flattening the curve; this is flattening a perpendicular line.

Dr. Wendell Hoffman

Hoffman said with a vaccine likely on the way, he worries about all of the people who will suffer and die from COVID-19 in the meantime, when government authorities could be trying to build a bridge to that future in cooperation with medical experts.

“[A vaccine] would be sort of the ultimate blocking activity, if you will,” Hoffman said. “But until we get there, we have to do everything we can to block the virus in its transmission within our communities. And that means, that this is a highly contagious virus, and we can’t just say, ‘Well it’s going to spread anyways.’ That’s not true. There are many states who have flattened their curves and prevented some infections, if not many infections.”

Hoffman pleaded with Gov. Noem to protect the hospitals and residents by getting out in front of the virus, warning that post-COVID-19 syndromes could also make it difficult for some people to rejoin the economy.

“Whatever we can do, we need to do,” Hoffman said. “Whatever has potential, we need to enact. If you’re not going to do the formal mitigating strategies, then at least you need to get out in front. You need to in every way possible, spread the word.”

He called on the governor to encourage the state’s mayors “who are adopting different strategies than your own” so that everyone can be working together.

So, that’s my encouragement to you. All due respect. You’re in a tough position, but so are we, and so are the patients we are seeing all the time. The fear is palpable. So, we need to change course. I’m begging you.

Dr. Wendell Hoffman

Governor Noem’s Communications Director Ian Fury said Noem was not available for an interview today, but sent this statement:

“Every death is tragic, and even one is too many. Some think that a mask mandate would stop the virus in its tracks; sadly, that isn’t the case. Look at Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois – states that all have mask mandates but are still seeing rapidly increasing cases. Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Noem has focused on solutions that DO good, not solutions that FEEL good. She’ll continue trusting South Dakotans to exercise their personal responsibility to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones.”

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