SD reports single-day high for COVID-19 infections

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — South Dakota on Wednesday reported 445 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number in a single day since the pandemic started.

The state has seen the nation’s second-highest number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks. The rolling average of daily new cases has increased by nearly a third in that time. But Gov. Kristi Noem has continued to say that the state is “in good shape” when it comes to hospital capacity.

The Department of Health also reported a record number of people hospitalized by COVID-19 on Wednesday with 192 needing hospital care. Those people are occupying 8% of hospital beds in the state, and 41% of hospital beds are open.

In a Tuesday tweet, Noem said, “It looks like South Dakota’s #COVID19 spread peaked the latest of just about any state.”

But coronavirus cases do not appear to be declining in the state.

The state’s seven-day average for COVID-19 test positivity remains among the highest in the nation, with nearly 18% of tests returning positive, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Tuesday’s positivity rate was even higher, with nearly 25% of tests returning positive, a sign that many people have infections that are not being detected by testing.

No deaths from COVID-19 were reported.

The Department of Health warned that someone who attended a Sioux Falls church conference that started two weeks ago could have transmitted the virus to others. The person attended meetings at Faith Family Church from Sept. 9-11.

Meanwhile, as the coronavirus crisis upended university plans across the state this fall, South Dakota public universities reported fall enrollment has declined by 2.8% from last year.

The enrollment decline was less than the Board of Regents anticipated, said Brian Maher, the regents’ executive director. But the drop in students is a continuation of a trend that started in 2018 that has put a financial squeeze on the state’s public universities.

“Our primary funding source is tuition fees so certainly there will be an impact,” Maher said.

But he said the financial impact will not be felt until next year.

Maher also pointed to an increase in the retention rate of undergraduate students to 81% as a silver lining in the latest enrollment figures. Universities worked to keep students, especially those who live in South Dakota, even as the economic uncertainty of the pandemic caused mass layoffs during the spring.

As students returned to campus, the state has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases.  The Department of Health has reported 1,172 cases tied to universities, according to the latest update released on Monday. 1,043 of those people have fully recovered.

Maher said, “The biggest thing we could do to help enrollment is to clear the public health situation up.”

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