RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Full hospitals, a shortage of treatment doses and stressed workers — that’s the impact the Delta variant of COVID-19 has had in western South Dakota.
Monument Health is reporting 101 COVID-19 occupied hospital beds between its five hospitals in the Black Hills. Along with full ICUs, the health system reported receiving fewer doses of monoclonal antibodies on Wednesday.
“We are in a true crisis setting,” said Dr. Shankar Kurra, Monument Health’s Vice President of Medical Affairs. “It’s putting immense stress, not just on the health system but on our health care workers. It is not sustainable if we continue on this path.”
Kurra said doctors, nurses and patients need to be quick when looking to use monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 patients. With a “constrained” supply of monoclonal antibodies, Kurra said it’s a more of a challenge to act quickly. He said he hopes the supply of monoclonal antibodies will improve, but for now they’ll provide that treatment option for those who qualify.
West River South Dakota counties make up 30% of the state’s total population, but with 3,758 active COVID-19 cases, western counties account for nearly 50% of the state’s current active cases (7,714). The wave of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths has surpassed any previous peaks in western South Dakota.
“This is definitely far worse than what we saw last year after the (Sturgis) rally,” Kurra said. “The Delta variant, with its more transmissible nature, got an opportunity to spread rampant through our counties.”
Since the start of September, Pennington County has reported 16 new deaths, including four the past two days. Meade County has reported seven new deaths since Aug. 30.
“Very sad. This was what we we’re hoping to control,” Kurra said about COVID-19 deaths. “The vaccine is the only solution to stop deaths, to stop hospitalizations. The vaccines were designed to precisely do that.”
Kurra said 80% or more of COVID-19 transmission is occurring from people who are unvaccinated. For hospitalizations and deaths, Kurra said it’s more than 90% unvaccinated. He noted many western South Dakota counties have vaccination rates around 35-40 percent, well below the statewide average.
“When you have low rates of vaccinations; you have a highly transmissible Delta variant; you will see what we’re seeing,” Kurra said. “The numbers don’t lie.”
Kurra admitted even he’s been surprised at the sharp rise of new COVID-19 cases. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, western South Dakota counties make up 10 of the top 15 highest PCR positivity rates including all of the top five spots.
Custer County is reporting a 30% positivity rate, which means nearly one out of every three COVID-19 tests is coming back with a positive result. Haakon (28%), Butte (26%), Pennington (22%) and Jackson (22%) are the other four counties with the highest positive rates.
Perkins County is the only western South Dakota county not experiencing “high” community spread.
“We are still on that upward slope,” Kurra said. “Hopefully, we’ll start to see a downward climb.”