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Fact check: South Dakota does not have four COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people

Correction July 28, 2020: A previous version of this Fact Check incorrectly confused percentage points with percentages in talking about job loss figures. This correction changes the wording from percent to percentage point and updates paragraphs seven and eight. This update also adds a further paragraph on the rise in the number of unemployed residents in South Dakota.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Posts shared on Facebook claim that the state of South Dakota, which has not issued lockdown orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the country and has suffered the lowest number of job losses. This claim is false.

Example posts can be found here , here , and here .  

This fact check will look at data available as of July 20, 2020.

South Dakota’s estimated population was 884,659 in 2019 (  www.census.gov/quickfacts/SD  ), according to the United States Census Bureau. The claim that there have been four COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota is false. According to data from the CDC (  here  ), there have been 896.1 cases per 100,000 people, with 7,906 total cases reported in the state.  

Neither of these numbers is the lowest in the nation, as the posts allege. States with lower numbers of total cases than South Dakota are Hawaii (1,273), Vermont (1,350), Alaska (1,874), Wyoming (2,126), Montana (2,533), Maine (3,711), West Virginia (5,042), North Dakota (5,126), and New Hampshire (6,203).

South Dakota surpassed four COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, the rate mentioned in the posts, on March 25, when there were 41 cumulative cases reported in the state, or 4.63 cases per 100,000 people (  here  ). Most posts on social media were posted significantly after that date.  

The claim that South Dakota has suffered the “lowest job loss in (the) nation” during the pandemic is also false. A Reuters analysis comparing February 2020 unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (  here ) to the latest available data from June 2020 (  here  ) found that in South Dakota, the unemployment rate increased from 3.3% to 7.2%, growing by 3.9 percentage points.

States with lower percentage-point increases were: Kentucky (0.1 percentage points); Utah (2.6 percentage points); Idaho (2.9 percentage points); Mississippi (3.3 percentage points); Maine and Oklahoma (both 3.4 percentage points); New Mexico (3.5 percentage points); Montana (3.6 percentage points); and Nebraska (3.8 percentage points). The unemployment rate in North Dakota also increased by 3.9 percentage points.

In South Dakota, the number of unemployed residents grew by 18,111 from February, when an estimated 15,600 people were unemployed, to June, when an estimated 33,711 were unemployed, according to BLS data (  www.bls.gov/eag/eag.sd.htm  ). Kentucky, for example, had a decrease in the number of unemployed persons. According to preliminary data, the number of unemployed persons decreased by 5,424 persons during this time (  www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ky.htm  ).

In comparing the impact of COVID-19 on South Dakota, it is important to note its low population density compared to states with higher total case numbers, such as New York. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 10.7 people per square mile in South Dakota (  www.census.gov/quickfacts/SD  ) while there were 411.2 people per square mile in New York (  www.census.gov/quickfacts/NY  ).  

In addition, South Dakota, which has conducted 11,023 tests per 100,000 people ( here  ), has not reached its testing target, nor is it close, according to an analysis by the New York Times (  here  ). 

It is true that Governor Krisi Noem did not shut down businesses or issue a stay-at-home order. However, many businesses throughout the state, including meat packers, closed temporarily because of the  outbreak (  here  ). As reported here by the New York Times, Noem resisted requests from local officials to issue a stay-at-home order, and instead ordered South Dakota businesses to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

VERDICT

False. Posts on social media significantly undercount South Dakota COVID-19 cases.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here . 

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