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South Dakota officials: Holiday could undo virus progress

FILE- In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem speaks in...
FILE- In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D. The largest group representing South Dakota doctors has come out in support of a statewide mask mandate as several cities have moved to require masks in public settings. Gov. Noem has opposed government-imposed mask mandates, arguing they have not been proven to halt the spread of infections. She plans to give an update on the state's coronavirus situation later Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.((Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP))
Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 4:08 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota health officials warned Wednesday that the state’s recent progress in slowing the COVID-19 infection rate could be undone by holiday gatherings.

The state added 28 more deaths from the illness caused by the coronavirus, pushing the November total to 424, which is one fewer than the 425 the state had in every other month of the pandemic combined.

Despite the sharp increase in deaths, the average number of new daily cases has declined over the past two weeks. But health officials warned that Thanksgiving gatherings could lead to a resurgence.

Although cases have recently had a modest drop, South Dakota still has the nation’s second-highest number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. Roughly one out of every 50 people has tested positive in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

“We are still seeing a high level of cases within the state, as are many states,” said Josh Clayton, the state epidemiologist.

Health officials asked people to take steps to prevent infections from spreading as they gather for Thanksgiving, but stopped short of asking them to cancel holiday plans.

“We ask that individuals do take precautions, whether it’s at the bar, whether you are traveling to visit family, or whether you are spending time with family,” Clayton said.

That message is in line with the stance of Gov. Kristi Noem, who said she wouldn’t stop or discourage people from gathering for Thanksgiving but asked that people wash their hands frequently, keep festivities small and protect those most vulnerable to serious complications from the disease.

The Republican governor kicked off the holiday season on Tuesday night with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Capitol. In photos she shared on social media, she was not wearing a face mask despite being in close proximity to other people. Noem has said she wears masks when “appropriate,” but the former rancher has publicly expressed doubt about whether the widespread wearing of masks in public helps slow the spread of infections.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.