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Nov 14, 2020
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Traveling in the U.S. is becoming riskier by the day, as the country continues to break records for new Covid-19 cases.

Yet not every hot spot is generating the same level of heat. Even as the coronavirus spreads like wildfire, it can be useful to identify which parts of the country present the highest risk so you can stay away until the virus is brought under control.

It’s helpful, too, to keep an eye on how states are handling the crisis — or not handling it. While some governors take steps to rein in the spread of the disease by laying down restrictions in the form of face-mask mandates, curfews, quarantine protocols and even shutdowns, other states — often those with the highest caseloads — are doing comparatively little.

Countless public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, have said that widespread face mask-wearing is the most effective way for Americans to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

So why do some states mandate face masks and others do not? A study published in early September from the University of Washington found that governors’ partisanship was the key determining factor. “The most important predictor is whether a state is led by a Republican governor,” wrote the researchers. “These states were much slower to adopt mandates, if they did so at all.”

Two months after that report was published, the pattern continues. Here’s a state-by-state rundown of the riskiest states to visit right now, along with an overview of current Covid-19 protocols.

1) South Dakota

Risk factors: No statewide mask mandate - 154.5 new daily cases per 100,000 people - 58.8% of Covid tests are positive

Few governors have been more defiantly anti-mask than South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, whose state is the epicenter of Covid-19 spread. The Mount Rushmore state is recording a staggering 154.5 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, on a rolling weekly average, according to the Harvard-Brown risk-assessment tool. Any state with over 25 new daily cases per 100,000 people is colored red on the map, which means it is considered “at a tipping point.” South Dakota’s risk level is more than 500% above that threshold, a breathtaking failure to manage the crisis.

Importantly, South Dakota’s percent positive rate is 58.8%, also the highest in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That means nearly six in 10 Covid tests come back positive. The percent positive should ideally be under 5%, according the World Health Organization. Worse yet, positivity has risen in South Dakota for the past two consecutive weeks, which suggests that the state is not close to getting the virus under control.

2) North Dakota

Risk factors: Brand new statewide mask mandate - 141.4 new daily cases per 100,000 people - 15.7% of Covid tests are positive

Just yesterday, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a Republican, acquiesced to pressure from public health experts and announced a month-long statewide mask mandate. Masks must be worn in indoor businesses and public spaces and outside in public spaces when social distancing is impossible.

Burgum’s decision follows the leadership from local officials who previously issued their own mask mandates in Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot and the state’s two largest Native American reservations.

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