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Grandmother of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem died in nursing home ravaged by COVID-19

OSouth Dakota Governor Kristi Noem buried her grandmother, who was among 13 to die in two weeks, in a first-rate nursing home swept away by COVID-19 on Monday.

Noem’s office reportedly said 98-year-old grandmother Aldys Arnold tested negative for the virus, although no cause of death was given. The other 12 out of 13 deaths between November 14 and November 28 at Estelline Nursing Home are described by administrator Mike Ward as “COVID-related”.

“All but one,” Ward told the Daily Beast.

But one less is still a dozen COVID deaths over a short period in a small facility. The number clearly shows the madness of Noem’s downplaying of the pandemic and his continued refusal to impose a statewide mask mandate.

“I have always taken # COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE very seriously, but South Dakota has trusted our citizens to exercise their personal responsibility to protect themselves and their loved ones, ”Noem tweeted in July.

But the report from Estelline Nursing Home, in a town of the same name, made it clear that the South Dakotans are anything but safe. Ward confirmed that in addition to the deaths, all but two of the 38 surviving residents and at least 16 staff members tested positive.

The two most recent deaths were on Saturday and helped bring the statewide daily total to 54, a record for South Dakota, which has less than one million people.

Noem remained obsessed with livelihoods rather than life and chose to tweet that day about the importance of supporting small businesses through shopping.

None of this is to say that Noem is at all cold-blooded when life includes a member of his own clan. She tweeted a moving tribute to Arnold on November 22.

“We lost my grandmother today, but she’s finally where she wanted to be for some time… with Jesus. And grandpa and my dad and Ryan… and so many loved ones… I remember when my father died she said to me with tears rolling down her cheeks, ‘Children should never die before their parents ‘… I had never seen my grandmother cry before.

Noem’s father, Aldys Arnold’s son, was killed in a 1994 accident involving agricultural machinery. Ryan Arnold, grandson of Aldys and cousin of Noem, died in 2010 of surgical complications after giving part of his liver to his brother.

“She was the toughest woman I have ever known,” Noem tweeted. “She spoke clearly, but full of wisdom. She could outdo any man and did it regularly. She was honest … (we all have fun stories about when maybe she was a little TOO honest). And she left our family with a legacy of faith and love for the Lord. We love you grandma. Thank you for the honor of being your granddaughter.

Noem made it clear here that she was intimately aware of the personal loss. But Monday night, Noem had not tweeted a word about the 12 deaths with Arnold during that terrible fortnight.

For Noem, having mentioned the dozen other deaths would have raised the specter of the virus that killed them even as she continued to claim that she had subdued it by citing personal responsibility rather than imposing a vital precaution – a face shield – which is as simple and compact as wearing a seat belt.

And no one can rightly fault the nursing home itself for not protecting its residents to the best of their ability. State and federal inspectors have consistently given the house their highest marks, and its record is not marred by a single serious violation.

The family of one of the dead, Ardyce Apland, 90, described Estelline to the Daily Beast as “excellent”, reporting that the house had taken significant precautions against COVID-19 long before anyone tested positive there. Apland’s son-in-law David Herrold said visitors were required to wear masks and encountered a resident in a separate room partitioned by plexiglass and plastic sheeting.

Visitors and residents have been separated. But through the plastic, Herrold could see that Apland had continued to thrive since moving into the house in June.

“She was gaining weight, she looked good,” he recalls.

Then, as far as Ward could tell, an asymptomatic staff member introduced the virus into the facility from the outside, likely after catching it in the area where masks are not needed and where Noem allowed people to gather in crowds as large as a quarter. million at a bike rally.

“It’s everywhere,” Herrold said of the virus

Despite all the precautions, the retirement home has been included everywhere. Apland quickly went from successful to death.

“In 12 days,” Herrold said.

It was November 22, the very day that Noem’s grandmother died.

Apland was just the kind of person that a governor of all politics should praise politics. She had raised three children on a family farm and they would remember being awakened by the smell of lefse – Norwegian flat bread – which she had baked on the pancake pan. She worked for years as a secretary at the local Lutheran Church and sang in the choir for almost six decades.

But to talk about Apland’s life is to risk talking about his death and COVID-19. Noem continues to downplay the danger of the virus. And she had repeatedly dismissed what appears to have been her most likely vector in the Estelline household.

“Virus science tells us that it is very, very difficult to spread the virus when you are asymptomatic,” Noem said in an interview with Fox TV in July.

If the governor seems at least outwardly indifferent to the deaths of COVID-19, Ward, the administrator of Estelline, has clearly taken them to heart. And it’s not just because her own mother is among the residents who tested positive. He seems as heartbroken by all the COVID-19 victims in the house as if they were family.

“It’s awful,” he said on Monday. “I do not know what to say. It is devastating.

He declined to comment on Noem’s views and policies.

“We are doing everything we can to fight COVID and we don’t need to fight among ourselves,” he told The Daily Beast.

He could honestly say that he and the staff at Maison Estelline had done their best. But they had no control over the outer realm.

“We tried,” he says.

And one day when Noem was both burying her grandmother and celebrating her 49th birthday, her office was asked if she had anything to say about the dozen other dead.

She didn’t say anything at all.



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