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S. Dakota Gov. Noem says 'we will not be social distancing' at July 3 celebration with Trump at Mount Rushmore

Thousands of people are expected for the event. Masks are optional, too.
Image: Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D., on March 22, 2019.David Zalubowski / AP file

WASHINGTON — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says the thousands of people who attend the July 3 celebration for Independence Day at Mount Rushmore with President Donald Trump will not be required to practice social distancing despite an increase in coronavirus cases across the country.

"We will have a large event at July 3rd. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we'll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing," Noem, a Republican, said in an interview Monday night on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle."

State officials have told the people of South Dakota "to focus on personal responsibility," said Noem, adding, "Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they're comfortable with."

Trump is expected to attend the celebration and deliver remarks at the event, a day before the July Fourth holiday. Mount Rushmore is located within a national park in Keystone, S.D. The event will happen amid a surge in coronavirus infections across the U.S., which has caused some states including Texas to pull back on their plans to further reopen.

A website detailing information for the July 3 event says that "attendance will be limited" through an online lottery that occurred in June "to around 7,500 participants."

While the website for the celebration makes no mention of social distancing or providing face masks, the National Park Service says "We ask the public to be our partner in adopting social distancing practices when visiting parks."

From the beginning of the pandemic, health and government officials have encouraged Americans to practice social distancing at a minimum of 6 feet. Officials have also been urging people to wear facial coverings to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.

On South Dakota’s Department of Health website, it says that in order to avoid the illness, people should "avoid close contact with people...stay at home as much as possible," and "put distance between yourself and other people.” It also says, “everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public."

As of Tuesday, there are 807 active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, according the state's department of health. There have been 6,716 positive cases and 91 deaths from the disease. According to a three-day moving average from Johns Hopkins University, there have been on average about 60 new cases a day recently which has remained steady.

Trump, for his part, has declined to wear a face mask throughout the pandemic. As of Sunday, there have been more than 2.5 million positive cases in the U.S. and a death toll of 126,332, according to NBC News' tally.

The president recently held his first campaign rally in months in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where there was no social distancing and masks weren't required. Since then, at least eight members of Trump's advance team tested positive.