On CNN, TenHaken says with valuing personal freedoms ‘comes an increase in cases’


Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken appeared on CNN Tuesday afternoon, speaking about the recent spike in cases and hospitalizations in the city as well as South Dakota.

CNN anchor John King introduced TenHaken after discussing South Dakota’s record-setting COVID-19 numbers, including the highest positivity rate in the country, and asked the mayor why cases were on the rise.

More: Recovered coronavirus patients outnumber new infections amid more deaths

“It’s a little bit of everything,” TenHaken said, noting that schools and colleges are open, and the state has been holding in-person events.

“We are a state that values personal freedoms, and values liberties,” TenHaken said, “and because of that we haven’t had a lot of restrictions, we haven’t had a lot of lockdowns, we haven’t had a lot of government mandates. And with that comes an increase in cases.”

TenHaken said they weren’t hiding the fact that cases were surging, but said hospitals have not been overwhelmed by cases even as they rise.

Representatives from Sioux Falls’ major health systems, Sanford Health and Avera Health, said at a forum yesterday that current numbers were indeed manageable, with Sanford’s Michael Wilde saying the hospital could handle double or even triple the 30-40 COVID-19 patients it’s caring for on a daily basis.

“But of course we want to see hospitalization numbers decrease,” TenHaken said, saying they were taking a “light touch approach” focused on messaging, encouraging masking and personal responsibility.

King also asked TenHaken about the viral video posted by Gov. Kristi Noem last week where she appeared in a cornfield with a gun, saying “This is how we do social distancing in our state” before shooting a bird that flies from off screen.

“Less COVID, more hunting,” Noem says. “That’s the plan for the future.”

King said some people found the video to be not serious, whereas others thought the governor was demonstrating a safe outdoors activity, and asked TenHaken for his take.

“First off, I don’t know many governors who could hit a bird in three shots, so our governor’s a good shot,” TenHaken said.

He said he appreciates the approach Noem has taken to the pandemic. He added it’s “certainly made the phone ring in South Dakota” with people and businesses “that are interested in coming to a state that’s allowing those personal freedoms.”

Left unsaid was the tension between the two in the early days of the pandemic, when Noem denied TenHaken’s request for a shelter-in-place order for Minnehaha and Lincoln County in April.

TenHaken briefly said he’d go forward with the plan in Sioux Falls city limits before backing off, citing hospital capacity no longer being a concern.

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