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Lessons Learned from COVID-19

COVID-19 has given us many unique challenges. As I’ve repeatedly said, this situation is historic in the worst way. But with every challenge comes the opportunity to learn, to adapt, and to improve. Today, I’d like to outline some of the lessons we’ve learned.


Perhaps the most significant take away so far is that more freedom, not more government, is the answer. Freedom alone won’t solve all our problems, but it presents a better path towards where we want to go.


Freedom is a better friend of true science than government-controlled science. Freedom the best friend of innovation. Freedom focuses our politics on persuasion and the intellectual strength of our positions, not on control, coercion or the heavy hand of government. And if someone is interested in the common good in all its iterations and complexities, freedom is the one and only choice.


Another lesson we learned pertains to modeling. While modeling certainly has a place, models have two major shortcomings: no model can actually predict the future, especially when it is based on data that is incomplete; and, no model is capable of replacing human freedom as the best path to responding to life’s risks, including this virus.


In South Dakota, we saw modeling as a tool, and we used it to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. I thank God that the worst-case hasn’t happened, but we were ready – and we are still ready – if it does. But there is no model that can take into consideration all the factors that make real life work. A blind reliance on insufficient modeling has led some politicians to institute disastrous lockdowns, but South Dakota took a different path.


Another lesson: urban life isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be. In South Dakota, the rural life is often a preferred way of life. Folks want to stay on the land their grandfathers and grandmothers once farmed. They want to stay in the communities they have called home for generations. They want to eat in small mom and pop restaurants, visit some of the world’s most beautiful places and have their kids spend time with a tackle box rather than an Xbox.


Sure, big, famous cities like New York are home to some iconic buildings and some great museums. But they come with traffic, noise, and plenty of sanitation issues. And as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, population density comes with a steep cost.


Some think COVID-19 will accelerate the move of people out of cities. That story is still being written, but one of the few things we know about this virus is that density is one of the key factors contributing to its spread. Because of that, New York and Silicon Valley may look very different in the future.


But the lessons from this virus don’t stop at city limits. Our trips to the store might look different.  Our sporting events might change.  I was in a meeting just recently about our State Fair – it’s going to change too.  But that’s not a bad thing. It’s a chance to innovate and get creative.


Our new normal may be very different from the past, but don’t ever forget this one fundamental truth: the windshield is so much bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason. In South Dakota, we always confront adversity and emerge into even greater prosperity. Our future is bright. Hope is in front of us. We will come out stronger than ever before.


This column is an abbreviated version of a speech given by Governor Noem. You can view the full speech here.