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South Dakota is nation's top hot spot for COVID-19; 2,143 test positive in last week
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South Dakota is nation's top hot spot for COVID-19; 2,143 test positive in last week

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South Dakota surpassed 3,000 active COVID-19 cases Thursday while becoming the state with the highest per capita surge in the nation, according to nationwide tracking by the New York Times. Iowa and North Dakota follow the state in hot spot rankings.

In the past seven days, 2,143 South Dakotans have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.

State epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said he has expected the state’s active cases to have peaks and valleys since June, but he “certainly was not wanting to see this high level of cases.”

“This is definitely within the possibility of what I was thinking when we were talking about seeing increasing cases,” he said. “This is reminiscent of what we will see if we have individuals who are not taking proper precautions.”

State health secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said people should still follow the department’s guidance to stay away from other people, social distance, wear a mask and wash their hands often and for 20 seconds or more.

Clayton said statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations and the coronavirus death toll may increase in two weeks as a result of the surge in cases.

334 new cases were reported statewide Thursday, pushing the state to 3,013 active infections, a record number since the pandemic hit the state in mid-March.

Another 14,337 South Dakotans have had a positive case, with 11,155 having recovered from coronavirus. 169 state residents have died of COVID-19.

Thursday’s report came from 2,449 tests, a positive test rate of 13.6%. The state has done 198,749 tests on 150,537 residents.

Pennington County reported 61 new cases Thursday, marking a record 448 active cases.

76 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state Thursday, with 35 in Monument Health’s system. 1,052 South Dakotans have been hospitalized with coronavirus at some point in the pandemic.

Contact tracing

118 South Dakotans have COVID-19 as a result of attending the Sturgis motorcycle rally, the DOH reported Thursday.

Clayton said the state is basing its rally tally on South Dakota residents who in 14 days prior to their illness onset visited Sturgis or attended an event that would be considered part of the motorcycle rally prior to their illness.

Clayton said the state is not counting secondary infections in their tally. A secondary infection would be someone who went to the rally, contracted COVID-19 and then infected a friend or family member who was not at the rally.

The DOH initially had 131 staff working on contact tracing, but surged its capacity to 243 in recent days to contact the growing numbers of people with COVID-19 infections in the state.

When asked about any lag in contact tracing that South Dakotans may experience, Malsam-Rysdon said that when there’s “more volume” of case numbers, it does increase her department’s challenge to keep up.

Another struggle for the DOH is the time it can take to hear back from the people they contact, or to get them to pick up the phone when called, Malsam-Rysdon said.

“Anything you in the media can do to help encourage people to pick up the phone when we call or when we leave a message,” she said. “Please call us back and we can get you the information that you need to stay safe.”

Malsam-Rysdon said the lag people experience in hearing from the DOH “more often than not” may be their own fault, as the DOH has left them multiple messages before they hear back.

The state’s case numbers do include cases from Indian Health Service and Veteran's Administration if they are state residents, Clayton added.

Vaccine news

Malsam-Rysdon said the state may receive COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government and CDC by late October or early November.

The vaccines would either be approved by the FDA or authorized by the agency under emergency powers. Public health experts have pointed out that final stage trials of experimental vaccines are still recruiting volunteers.

The Associated Press reports that they are “at best halfway through that process” for final stage trials. The vaccines are two doses, given a month apart, but adequate data on whether the vaccines work and are safe before Nov. 1 may not be available.

The state does not yet know how many doses of the vaccine it will receive, and who will be prioritized to receive it first.

“That activity will really be determined by the amount of vaccine that we’re able to get, which we do not know yet,” Malsam-Rysdon said. “Nevertheless, the conversations with our health care partners are ongoing so that they are prepared.”

Malsam-Rysdon said she knew there were discussions that people in long-term care facilities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, so they may be the first ones to get the vaccine.

Health care workers and “other vulnerable people because of their health symptoms” may also be prioritized to receive the first vaccines in the state in the future.

College cases

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, South Dakota’s public universities had the following active COVID-19 case counts:

  • Mines: 39 students, 2 staff, 95 quarantined

  • BHSU: 9 students, 1 staff, 57 quarantined

  • USD: 223 students, 7 staff, 628 quarantined

  • SDSU: 74 students, 3 staff, 317 quarantined

  • DSU: 8 students, 28 quarantined

  • NSU: 32 students, 2 staff, 63 quarantined

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