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As COVID-19 cases rise, hospital capacity falls in state

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ICU room

One of the six new ICU rooms at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital. Twelve patients are currently in the Rapid City ICU with COVID-19.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in South Dakota, hospitalizations are increasing and hospitals statewide are filling up. Monument Health in western South Dakota is no exception, but officials say there are other contributing factors to the influx in patients.

Confirmed COVID cases have nearly tripled in the first two weeks of August, with 106 counted on Aug. 4 and hitting a peak on Aug. 16 with 292 new confirmed cases.

On Thursday, the state saw 274 new confirmed cases and 24 new probable cases, with 125 people currently hospitalized, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, Pennington County saw 65 new confirmed cases and eight new probable cases.

Throughout Monument’s five hospitals there are 40 hospitalized patients, including 35 in the Rapid City hospital, according to Monument spokesman Dan Daly. There are 12 patients in the ICU at Monument Rapid City and eight patients on ventilators. The vast majority of those patients are unvaccinated. 

“Like all hospitals across South Dakota and throughout the region, Monument Health is extremely busy. This includes ICU beds and patient rooms. COVID-19 is only one of the reasons Monument Health hospitals are busy right now. It’s a combination of factors,” Daly told the Journal. “Patients who delayed care during the pandemic are now presenting with more advanced medical conditions. Also, the Black Hills tourism season has set all-time records, which is also leading to an increase in required medical care.”

Monument was caring for three to six hospitalized patients most days in July. On July 28, that increased to 10 patients, and it has been rising ever since, according to Daly.

Since Aug. 1, Monument Health has performed 3,307 RT-PCR diagnostic COVID-19 tests, with a positivity rate around 20%. A “good” positivity rate as defined by the World Health Organization is 5% or lower. Monument Health does not have the testing capabilities to specify whether the positive cases are of the Delta variant.

He clarified that the current patient count is much lower than at the peak of COVID infections in the state in November 2020, when Monument was treating 104 patients.

The number of youth COVID cases has risen nationwide, a reality that could come to South Dakota with schools opening next week and several districts with limited mitigation measures in place. Monument has not made any special preparations in its pediatrics department for the start of the school year, however, Daly said the system is “confident” it can meet the medical needs of youth patients if the need arises. Monument does not publicly track its pediatric COVID patients separately from adult patients.

Additionally, Monument has not been “specifically” tracking the number of rally-goers who tested positive for or came down with COVID during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This week was the 10-day mark from the beginning of the rally, which is the length of time it typically takes new cases to manifest.

During the pandemic, Monument expanded the capacity of its Intensive Care Unit by completing the construction of six new ICU rooms in the spring, which Daly said will help with the increasing demand for medical and surgical services.

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