SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Some South Dakota state government employees now have clear guidelines for how to get exempted from a pending federal vaccine mandate, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Noem signed an executive order offering specific guidelines for state workers who are considered contractors on federal programs to apply for a medical or religious exemption.

While federal guidance on the vaccine mandate provides for medical and religious exemptions, legal experts have said a religious exemption could prove difficult to get and the pathway to gain either exemption isn't entirely clear.

“Our state has many contracts with the federal government, and President Biden is attempting to use those contracts to force state employees to be vaccinated against their will," Noem said in a statement. "My executive order will protect their rights to medical and religious exemptions under any federal vaccine mandates. I am already talking with legislators about extending these protections to private employees through legislation as well.”

For medical exemptions, affected employees will need a written statement from a physician stating that the COVID-19 vaccination is contraindicated for medical reasons. For the religious exemption, a form will be made available by the Bureau of Human Resources that shall read in full, “I, [insert person’s full name], dissent and object to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds, which includes moral, ethical, and philosophical beliefs or principles.”

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The executive order doesn't apply to members of the South Dakota National Guard. The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors goes into effect Dec. 8.

Noem also said she planned to work with state lawmakers to make permanent those exemptions for state employees and extend similar measures to private businesses who adopt COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The following are the state Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Wednesday. All data is the latest available but should be considered preliminary and could be updated at a later date by health officials.

Vaccinations

  • INITIAL DOSE ADMINISTERED (IF 2-DOSE VACCINE): 541,352 people, 61.2% of state's population*

  • FULLY VACCINATED: 462,162 people, 52.2% of state's population

  • BOOSTER DOSE RECEIVED: 36,881 people, 8% of state's population

*Note: The percentage presented here via the CDC differs from the state Department of Health percentage posted on its online dashboard, because the department's data indicates percentage of state population age 12 and older, not the state's total population.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 458 (seven-day daily average: 489)
  • CURRENT ACTIVE CASES: 5,464
  • TOTAL CASES: 153,774
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 146,079

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS: 16 (seven-day daily average: 15)

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 199

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 7,801

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED AMONG CASES: 3

  • TOTAL DEATHS AMONG CASES: 2,231

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