Trump backs South Dakota governor's handling of COVID-19

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stands in the crowd on the South Lawn of the White House during the fourth day of the Republican National Convention in Washington. Noem has no plans to get tested for the coronavirus before heading back to the president's campaign trail this week, even though she attended a fundraiser with the president shortly before he tested positive. Noem tested negative for the virus on Sept. 29, a day before the Trump fundraiser in Minnesota.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has no plans to get tested for the coronavirus before heading back to the president's campaign trail this week, even though she attended a fundraiser with the president shortly before he tested positive.

President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he tested positive led to a flurry of testing by other politicians, including from three Minnesota congressmen and a U.S. Senate candidate who had flown on Air Force One. The Minneapolis steakhouse that catered Trump’s fundraiser last Wednesday also announced that its event staff would quarantine and be tested, even though none had come into close contact with Trump.

Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, said she has “no plans to get tested in the immediate future” because she has not been in close contact with anyone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

As Trump returned to the White House after being hospitalized, he downplayed the deadly threat of the virus, which has also infected the first lady and several White House aides. It's a sentiment that Noem has echoed as she has carved out a national following among conservatives for renouncing lockdowns and casting doubt on the usefulness of masks.

Noem tested negative for the virus on Sept. 29, a day before the Trump fundraiser in Minnesota. But she did not get close enough or spend enough time with the president to become a close contact, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Fury.

The CDC defines close contact as spending at least 15 minutes within six feet (1.8 meters) of someone who has an infection.

Fury said that as more White House staff and others in Trump's orbit have announced positive tests for the virus, the governor's team checks if Noem had close contact with them. They are relying on Noem's recollection. At Trump campaign events, Noem does not wear a mask but regularly poses for photos with her arms wrapped around people.

“We’ve taken the health concerns of #COVID19 very seriously,” Noem tweeted Tuesday.

Noem has defended her hands-off approach to managing the pandemic, but COVID-19 is surging in South Dakota, which on Tuesday had the highest positivity rate of any state over the past 14 days, at 23.64%, according to The COVID Tracking Project. By comparison, the national average rate over the 14 days that ended Monday was 4.7%.

The surge led Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, who is seeking reelection, to postpone large campaign events and to limit contact among staff, according to his chief of staff, Rob Skjonsberg. Rounds' wife, Jean Rounds, was treated for cancer this year.

“Mike tested negative on July 3, he hasn’t been to any recent White House events and we’re not aware of any exposure,” Skjonsberg said.

Republican Sen. John Thune's staff declined to comment on when he was last tested for the virus. He is not known to have come into contact with White House staff in the last week.

South Dakota's surge in cases and hospitalizations, and the news of Trump's infection, have not stopped Noem from traveling or holding events. She spoke to South Dakota legislators gathered for a special session on Monday, and she will next head to Florida for a Trump rally. She is also slated to speak Friday at the American Priority Conference, a gathering of the president's supporters, at Trump National Doral hotel in Miami.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

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