South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has drawn national attention in recent days after defying pressure to issue stay-at-home orders as coronavirus cases have spiked in the mostly rural state. As of Saturday at 3:15 p.m ET, there are 1,411 cases and seven deaths in South Dakota. 

More than 600 workers fell ill with the virus at a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, leading to questions about Noem implementing safety measures. The plant, which has 3,7000 employees, has since closed and is now being sanitized. 

"We have cut our peak, and that's a good thing, and that is encouraging to all of us,” Noem, a Republican, said this week, despite calls for a shutdown order. "Our healthcare system can handle what's coming at us."

Noem has also promoted hydroxychloroquine, an unproven anti-malaria treatment against the virus. President Trump has touted the drug as a “game-changer.” 

“South Dakota is now the first state in America to launch a statewide, state-backed clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine to fight COVID-19,” said Noem’s office on Friday.

"I'm a lot better being on offense than I am on defense, and when COVID-19 started to hit our country and our state, I started to think of ways that we could work together to be aggressive to fight this," Noem told Fox News host Neil Cavuto earlier in the week. 

Noem has also attacked critics of her approach to the virus, telling Fox News in a separate interview that the media has been dishonest about the situation in her state.

"I believe in our freedoms and liberties. What I’ve seen across the country is so many people give up their liberties for just a little bit of security and they don’t have to do that,” she said.

Noem, 48, was elected as the governor of South Dakota in November 2018, beating Democrat Billie H. Sutton 51% to 47.6%, which was the closest gubernatorial election in the state since 1986. Prior to serving as governor, Noem served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing South Dakota’s at-large district from 2011 to 2019. From 2007 to 2011, she was a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives, representing the state’s 6th district. 

She has promoted fiscal conservative stances, promising not to raise taxes to balance the budget and opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. She is staunchly opposed to abortion rights and strongly favors U.S. energy independence. 

She has also supported Trump’s 2017 travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries but criticized Trump for anti-Muslim comments during the 2016 election cycle. 

Noem grew up on a farm and ranch in Hamlin County. In 1992, she married Bryon Noem at age 20. She attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, but dropped out and took over her father’s ranch at 22, after he died due to a farm machinery accident. A mother of three, Noem eventually went back to school later in her life, earning a bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State University in political science in 2012. 

In 2010, the Rapid City Journal reported that Noem had 27 traffic citations in 21 years. In February 2010, she was ticketed for driving 94 mph in a 75-mph zone.