South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has been rumored to be a possible 2024 presidential contender, has been one of the most vocal voices against mask mandates during the coronavirus pandemic and is the governor of one of just 13 states that don’t have a statewide mask mandate for at least indoor public areas.
Mask mandates and other restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus have become a hot topic in recent months as experts warn of a potentially dangerous winter, with people spending more time inside and the flu season intersecting with increased infections.
“If folks want to wear a mask, they are free to do so,” Noem said in a tweet late last month. “Those who don’t want to wear a mask shouldn’t be shamed into it, and govt should not mandate it. We need to respect each other’s decisions. In SD, we know a little common courtesy can go a long way.”
She added in a video shared this week: “There are many states that do have mask mandates in place and some that do not. But I look at their rate of spread and the fact is that cases are increasing in many of those states as well. … That is the concern that I have is many times I don’t want to approach a policy or a mandate just looking to make people feel good, I want to do good.”
Noem also emphasized that localities should be able to mandate masks if they choose to.
Meanwhile, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, both Republicans, issues mask mandates in their states within the past week after previously resisting doing so.
Other governors who have not mandated masks in their states — all of whom are Republicans — have cited a variety of reasons for why they haven’t taken the step and faced varying levels of pressure to mandate masks.
Here are the states that haven’t mandated masks, and what those governors have to say about their decisions:
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has been one of the lawmakers under the most pressure to implement a mask mandate in the country. He’s endorsed mask wearing, saying officials “want people to wear masks. Masks work,” according to FOX 10 Phoenix.
But, according to the station, Ducey believes a statewide mandate isn’t necessary.
“I think the steps that we’ve put in place, the participation that we have, has got the maximum amount of compliance with Arizonans wearing a mask,” Ducey said this week according to FOX 10 Phoenix. “In addition, it’s nearly impossible to participate in our economy anywhere without wearing a mask.”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, has praised masks as “very important” to beating back the pandemic but has said that he prefers localities to make decisions on their own about whether to mandate masks, according to Alaska Public Media.
Mandates are “best done at the local level,” Dunleavy said, according to the publication.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has also come under intense pressure to implement a mask mandate but resisted doing so. He’s also been one of the most resistant governors to economic shutdowns, citing a need to instead focus on nursing homes and vulnerable communities.
Notably, this week DeSantis said that “the state will not mandate that Floridians take [coronavirus] vaccines” during a video message on his plan to quickly distribute the vaccine to Floridians.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has also not imposed a mask mandate in his state, while simultaneously encouraging people to wear masks. Kemp notably sued Atlanta earlier this year to bar it from enforcing a mask mandate but later dropped the suit.
Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little has said that he wants to allow localities to control their own coronavirus mitigation plans, according to Northwest Public Broadcasting.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has not implemented a statewide mask mandate, but has mandated masks in some counties based on their coronavirus numbers.
“Wearing a mask helps,” the Republican governor said at a briefing this week. “It helps you. It helps your family. It helps your friends.”
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has pushed a message of personal responsibility as he asks residents in his state to wear maks.
“The masks are important. We all know that; we all believe that they really have a good purpose. But when you start mandating masks, from the governor’s position, one person, what do you do with the vaccine?” Parson said this week according to FOX 2 NOW. “You know, the vaccine is going to be here in 30, 40 days. Do you really want the governor of the state of Missouri to say, ‘Every man, woman, and child is going to be mandated to take a vaccine,’ cause that’s the road you go down.”
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, said that a mandate to wear masks might actually decrease compliance.
“I don’t think mask mandates are appropriate,” Ricketts said this week according to The Lincoln Journal Star. “They create resistance.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said Thursday, according to The Oklahoman, decried the idea of a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
“I believe it’s unenforceable,” Stitt said, per The Oklahoman.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, has not implemented a statewide mask mandate but has introduced a targeted mandate that patrons and staff in restaurants wear masks when not eating.
“That’s why each town, each municipality, each county they have the authority to issue such a mandate,” McMaster said earlier this month, according to ABC 15 News. “They know their businesses, they know their population, they know their habits. They know what penalities they want to enforce and they have the authority, they have the people there in the local area that know the people and can enforce it if necessary and we can’t do that on the state level, we don’t have the people. We don’t have the enforcers.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, has also resisted a statewide mandate, preferring to leave mandates up to individual localities.
“The governor strongly believes statewide, one-size-fits-all government mandates are not the best way to achieve sustainable compliance from individuals, as they are more likely to trust local leaders and that local leaders know the unique needs of their communities best,” a Lee spokesman said in a statement to FOX 17 Nashville earlier this month.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, has not yet implemented a mask mandate in his state amid rising cases, despite announcing new restrictions on citizens Thursday. He did however indicate he could be open to a mandate if numbers don’t change, earlier this month saying “all things are on the table,” according to K2 Radio.
The resistance to mandates in these states come as many others are implementing very strict measures as cases balloon just ahead of the holiday season. On Thursday, new cases in the U.S. again exceeded 170,000 according to Johns Hopkins University, far higher than the numbers seen in the surges of the spring or the summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.