SD hospitals bracing for monthlong virus surge

Courtesy photo

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — South Dakota’s largest hospitals are bracing to receive a growing flow of COVID-19 patients over the next month, doctors for Avera Health and Sanford Health said Wednesday.

Top doctors for the health systems, alongside Sioux Falls Public Health Director Dr. Charles Chima, held their first public briefing in months as the state sees a wave of coronavirus cases spurred by the contagious delta virus strain. The state Department of Health has not held public briefings dedicated to the virus since June. At the time, coronavirus cases had reached one of their lowest levels since the pandemic began.

But over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 65% and one out of every 310 people in the state has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

“We’re seeing hospitals around us filling up with COVID patients,” said Dr. Mike Wilde, the chief medical officer at Sanford Health.

The Department of Health reported 578 more coronavirus cases Wednesday. There were 229 people hospitalized with COVID-19 — marking the highest number of hospitalizations since January. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 78 were in intensive care, and 25 were on ventilators.

Of the six counties in the Black Hills, all are among the top 10 in current active infections within the state.

Pennington County leads the pack with 1,395; followed by Minnehaha, 805; Meade, 518; Lawrence, 352. Butte County came in sixth with 164 active cases.

Lawrence County recorded 38 new cases Wednesday while Meade County noted 40, and Butte County 31. All three counties have a high rate of community spread All three show test positivity rates around 30%. Health officials want the positivity rate below 5%

Monument Health is now receiving heap from the South Dakota National Guard in testing patients. The number of patients being admitted to the hospital because of COVID-19 has grown exponentially in the last month.

“In one week, it essentially doubled,” Dan Daly, a spokesman for Monument Health, told the Pioneer Friday. The number of cases was at 75 then. There were 93 patients hospitalized in the network Wednesday.

Wilde predicted cases and hospitalizations would peak in roughly one month, but Dr. David Basel, the vice president of clinical quality at Avera, added that there “are a lot of unknowns with the delta variant.”

Both doctors said hospitals were ready to receive many more patients, but pressed for people to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public and take other precautions.

“Nobody wants to see the trying times we went through last year,” Wilde said.

Mark Watson with the Black Hills Pioneer contributed to this report.

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