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‘It’s not real’: In South Dakota, which has shunned masks and other COVID rules, some people die in denial, nurse says – USA TODAY

South Dakota’s high rates of COVID-19 and low virus regulation have sparked criticism even as some dying of the virus there don’t believe it poses a real threat.

That’s according to Jodi Doering, a South Dakota nurse who has gained national attention for her account of working on the front lines in a state where leaders have long minimized the impact of the virus and refused to implement rules like mask mandates.

“I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real,” Doering wrote in a Saturday tweet

“They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COViD because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens.”

In an interview with CNN, Doering said her description wasn’t about a single patient. She tweeted after her frustration boiled over, as she recalled numerous patients whose dying words echoed the same theme: “This can’t be happening. It’s not real.”

‘This is unacceptable by any standards’:The Dakotas are ‘as bad as it gets anywhere in the world’ for COVID-19

While many patients accept that they are sick with the virus, the ones who do not will often lash out in anger and grasp at other explanations, suggesting they have the flu or even lung cancer, she said. Doering said she often watches these patients’ conditions deteriorate as she tries to convince them to say goodbye to loved ones.

Jenae Ruesink holds a sign demanding a mask mandate from City Council on Monday outside Carnegie Town Hall in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Other health professionals have accused South Dakota’s leaders of also being in denial.

“You in the Dakotas … you knew it was coming,” Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, told USA TODAY this month. “You denied it … even today you are denying it.”

Mokdad was responding to South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem saying her state’s per capita death rate was better than New York’s over the course of the pandemic. 

‘Our neighbors, our family members’:Small-town hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths

Mokdad said such comparisons are misleading, given how early and hard New York City was hit this spring. He pointed to a number of factors that have made both North and South Dakota vulnerable to the virus’ spread, including higher rates of preexisting conditions and economic inequality, in addition to health care that lags behind the U.S. standard.

Tuesday data from the COVID Tracking Project shows that South Dakota and neighboring North Dakota continue to have the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infection and death in the nation.

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