The heart of the American outbreak is shifting to the heartland. As the coronavirus crisis drags on, less populous states in the Midwest and the Great Plains are seeing furious growth, while dense states in the Northeast are experiencing some of the slowest rates of new infection.
In South Dakota, cases have risen steadily throughout the month of September. In the past week, more new cases have been diagnosed than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic and twice broken a record for coronavirus hospitalizations. Officials announced 457 new cases Friday.
Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has never issued a stay-at-home order or a statewide masking ordinance. She has encouraged large gatherings to continue unabated, including the president’s campaign rally at Mount Rushmore on the Fourth of July and the famous Sturgis motorcycle rally, which led to hundreds of new infections in neighboring states.
Across state lines, North Dakota is experiencing the single fastest rate of growth of coronavirus cases per capita in the country. In the past week, the state has averaged 390 new cases per day — a 50 percent increase from the average two weeks ago.
An effort to bring things under control in North Dakota imploded on Friday, when the state’s chief health officer resigned after less than a month on the job. The officer, Dr. Paul Mariani, had issued and then rescinded an order requiring residents to quarantine if exposed to the virus, or risk a misdemeanor charge. Gov. Doug Burgum accepted the resignation, saying the penalty had become a “large and unforeseen distraction.”
In Wisconsin cases have more than doubled since the beginning of September. The state, a critical battleground in the presidential election, has had an average of more than 2,000 cases per day in the past week.
Gov. Tony Evers warned in a video message Friday that the state was experiencing “unprecedented, near exponential growth,” which he attributed to a spike among people aged 18 to 24, who he said had an infection rate five times higher than other age groups.
Two more central states also reported single-day case records on Friday: Oklahoma with 1,276 and Missouri with more than 2,020. The other three states that reported single-day records were Idaho, Oregon, and Utah.
In Oklahoma, more cases have been announced over the last week than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.
And in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson and his wife have tested positive for the virus, but are still planning to host a fall festival at the governor’s mansion on Oct. 3, a few days before the end of their 14-day quarantine window.