SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota's health care systems, medical and business groups and city governments joined forces Tuesday, Oct. 27, to launch a campaign they hope will stem the widening spread of COVID-19 in the state — but they notably refrained from calling for any state or local mask mandates.

The message: "Mask Up South Dakota." The social media hashtag: #MaskUpSoDak.

"Masking is a simple act that each one of us can participate in, and it can save lives," said Dr. Benjamin Aaker, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, a leading group in the pro-masking coalition. "If you mask, that life could be your mother, your father, your friend or even your own. We are all in this together, and by taking steps such as masking, we can get through this."

The organizations backing the promotional effort include the medical association, the state's three largest health systems: Sanford Health, Avera Health and Monument Health, organizations that represent health care workers, chambers of commerce and educators.

South Dakota on Tuesday set new highs for the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently able to transmit the disease, as well as hospitalizations. October has been the deadliest month so far of the pandemic, with 152 South Dakotans dying due to COVID-19 out of the state's total death toll of 375.

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It wasn't entirely clear from Tuesday's short press conference how the organizations involved would promote the Mask Up South Dakota effort. Cale Feller, spokesman for Avera Health, later said he didn't have specifics on costs or which organization would pay what, but said this wouldn't just be a social media campaign.

"There is a paid advertising element to this as well – and several of the participating organizations are providing contracted space," he said.

No mask mandate sought

The organizations' call for widespread use of masks isn't the first. Earlier this month, mayors of the state's 16 largest cities and the state Municipal League wrote an open letter calling on people to wear masks. But Mask Up South Dakota is the largest joint promotional effort by health care and business groups as well as city leaders.

Beyond mask wearing, the organizations are also calling on people to follow the CDC's other recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Practice social distancing, wash hands, clean surfaces, cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if you're sick or have been exposed to the virus.

The Mask Up South Dakota guidelines match those made by public health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, who recommend widespread community masking to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The pro-masking effort stands in stark contrast to Gov. Kristi Noem's position on masks. Noem has said wearing masks is appropriate in some situations, but she has said she isn't convinced widespread masking works and has said she wouldn't support mask mandates.

The Mask Up South Dakota group, via Aaker, took pains to make clear they weren't seeking a masking mandate.

"I want to be clear: We are clinicians, organizations and business entities. We're not here asking for a governmental mask mandate," Aaker said. "We appreciate the governor's call to action for personal responsibility in helping us slow the spread of COVID-19."

When contacted by Forum News Service, Noem spokesman Ian Fury repeated the governor's stance on masks but didn't directly answer when asked whether the governor would join the Mask Up South Dakota campaign.

Mask Up South Dakota backers:

  • South Dakota State Medical Association
  • Sanford Health
  • Avera Health
  • Monument Health
  • South Dakota Nurses Association
  • South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations
  • South Dakota Municipal League
  • South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry
  • Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce
  • Associated School Boards of South Dakota
  • School Administrators of South Dakota
  • Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board
  • AARP South Dakota
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • Black Hills District Medical Society
  • Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas (CHAD)
  • District 7 Medical Society (Sioux falls & surrounding communities)
  • Humphreys Forum: A Collaboration of Sioux Falls Infectious Disease Physicians
  • Huron District Medical Society
  • Immunize South Dakota
  • Mitchell District Medical Society
  • Pierre District Medical Society
  • South Dakota Academy of Family Physicians
  • South Dakota Academy of Ophthalmology
  • South Dakota Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
  • South Dakota Chapter, American College of Emergency Physicians
  • South Dakota Chapter, American College of Physicians
  • South Dakota Chapter, American College of Surgeons
  • South Dakota Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • South Dakota Pathology Society
  • South Dakota Pharmacy Association
  • South Dakota Psychiatric Association
  • South Dakota Public Health Association
  • South Dakota Section, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • South Dakota Society of Anesthesiologists
  • Yankton District Medical Society

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