The Republican tweeted two photos: one showing a dozen of the pages crowded together on a staircase, and the second of them seated at a long dinner table. Only one page was wearing a mask, and none of the adults were.
A spokesman for Noem did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about why masks were not worn and whether any COVID precautions were taken.
Noem has famously refused to put in place a statewide mask mandate, even as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed this fall, and she is rarely seen wearing one herself.
But she should be aware of the risks of a mask-free gathering indoors. Last month, a state lawmaker tested positive for coronavirus two days after attending a dinner with other legislators at the governor’s official residence.
Noem, who has not yet been vaccinated, had also been traveling before the dinner: She attended President Joe Biden’s inauguration even though she was one of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters and had called the election rigged.
The lack of masks did not go unnoticed by Noem’s Twitter followers. “Superspreader event. Very irresponsible,” one replied.
New COVID-19 cases in South Dakota—where some cities have imposed their own mask mandates in the absence of action by Noem—have been declining since early December. But they are still higher than before the region’s massive coronavirus surge began in September, likely fueled by an enormous, mostly mask-less biker rally in Sturgis in August. And hospitalizations have only just fallen to a pre-surge level.