South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is going to use $5 million in coronavirus relief funds on a tourism ad campaign.
South Dakota experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases following last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which researchers believe might be responsible for more than 19% of all new US cases.
The state now ranks second in the country for new cases per capita over the last two weeks, with 439 new cases per 100,000 people, but Noem is actively still encouraging people to visit.
Related: 25K for world-famous motorcycle rally amid pandemic
In the weeks following the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, South Dakota has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot.
Despite the spike in infections, the Gov. Kristi Noem decided to spend $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on a tourism ad campaign to actively bring outsiders to the state, according to the Associated Press.
The ad, which is narrated by Noem, describes South Dakota as the “land of the free.”
“With our breathtaking landscape and wide-open spaces, we’re a place to safely explore,” Noem says in the ad, which she also tweeted. “And with our low taxes, we’re a place to grow. We’re open for opportunity.”
The state is using funds from the $1.25 billion it received from the federal government to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the AP.
Following the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which brought hundreds of thousands of unmasked bikers to the Black Hills, South Dakota has become second in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, according to the AP.
The state has counted 124 infections among people who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, but has not released an estimate on secondary infections linked to rallygoers, according to the AP.
Researchers released a study this week finding that the Sturgis rally is responsible for 19 percent of all new coronavirus cases in the US since. They estimated the public health cost of the spread at more than $12.5 billion.
Noem, though, still wants to bring more people to the state that was already hit hard by the effects of tourism during a pandemic.
Noem spokesman Ian Fury defended using the federal coronavirus funds for the ads, saying that the state “should absolutely be promoting tourism” because it is vital to South Dakota’s economy.
“That’s how people put food on the table,” he told the AP.
Critics say the campaign is Noem’s way to raise her political profile and has less to do with helping the state’s economy.
“The way to get our economy going again is to address the pandemic,” Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, told the AP.
This isn’t the first time that Noem’s ad campaigns have sparked criticism and conversation
Last year Noem launched a $450,ooo campaign to address the state’s serious meth problem.
Its tag line: “Meth: We’re on it,” was the butt of national jokes and was addressed on talk shows in the weeks that followed.
The message had a double meaning: it publicized that meth addiction can affect anyone in the community and also indicated that the state was “on it,” as in working to address the problem.
After the head-scratching ads went viral, Noem tweeted that it was working because, she said, “the whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness.”
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