To the editor:
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis used the phrase “laboratories of democracy” to describe how, when facing a crisis, states can experiment with differing solutions. Fifty separate governments act as independent “laboratories,” creating and testing local policy.
Faced with the coronavirus epidemic, a handful of states resisted issuing lockdown orders. South Dakota protected citizens' health without the extreme, draconian restrictions others imposed. As Governor Kristi Noem observed, “I’m not one who believes in a one-size-fits-all approach. Facts on the ground here did not support shelter-in-place. And we’ve done much better than many thought. We cut our peak projections by 75% putting in place common-sense recommendations. I’ve been super proud of what the people in South Dakota have done. They recognized that I wasn’t going to dictate to them, that I valued their freedoms and liberties and that I was going to let them take action on behalf of their families and communities.”
One European nation attacked the problem from a similar perspective. In Sweden, experts worked to contain the virus while averting a systemic health care collapse. By encouraging citizens to follow social distancing directives, Sweden avoided lockdowns, kept its economy running, and (more than any other European country) preserved normalcy.
This hybrid strategy requires crowd control measures but frees low-risk people to engage in normal social interactions. Admittedly, some will require hospital care, but most don’t wind up in ICU or on ventilators. In fact, many people remain asymptomatic. Others experience a cough or fever and then recover. In the process, they develop the antibodies needed to mitigate inevitable future outbreaks.
The absence of a mandatory stay-at-home order or statewide business closure hardly means South Dakota has ignored the danger. Yet, like the Swedes, Noem saw that mandatory lockdowns impede long-term public health, undermine economic growth, and threaten citizens’ fundamental freedoms.
South Dakota’s success proves our founding fathers' wisdom. These statesmen established a federal republic. Governor Noem – avoiding panic, channeling pioneer toughness, and maintaining a balanced, data-driven perspective – has proven herself an effective leader in the fight to defend the lives and livelihoods of the citizens she serves.
Catherine O'Gorman Barranco