SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It has been 365 days since March 10, 2020, when the first confirmed case of coronavirus was reported in Sioux Falls.
As city leaders gathered for a media briefing on the current state of the pandemic, both mayor Paul TenHaken and Avera Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Elliott noted the past year felt more like a decade. TenHaken and Elliott also stressed the importance of partnerships between health systems and local government.
“I don’t know how we would’ve got through this if there was divisiveness in the ranks between our health care providers. That unity has been very beneficial to our community,” said TenHaken, calling the partnerships between Avera, Sanford and the city of Sioux Falls one of the main strengths shown during the past year.
“The partnerships have been incredible,” Dr. Elliott said. “If we allow ourselves time to grieve and to heal from this, we can come through this stronger.”
In the first full year of coronavirus in South Dakota, the state has experienced 6,736 hospitalizations and 1,904 deaths. Of those, the Sioux Falls area of Lincoln and Minnehaha Counties has experienced 412 deaths.
At the pandemic’s peak in mid-November, Dr. Elliott said Avera was “bursting at the seams.” He highlighted Avera’s home care treated thousands of patients at a time with hundreds receiving oxygen at home.
When looking for areas of improvement, TenHaken said his biggest disappointment in the past year has been the community not listening to other people’s opinions. On Tuesday night, TenHaken once again heard hours of emotional and heated testimony surrounding the role of masking with the pandemic. His tie-breaking vote ended any extension of a non penalized mask mandate.
Wearing his mask throughout Wednesday’s briefing, TenHaken repeated his expectation for people to continue to wear masks when inside public spaces when socially distancing isn’t possible and asked people to follow any mask/mitigation rules set by area businesses.
“There’s no right or wrong way to handle this. We have to be sympathetic to everyone’s different positions,” TenHaken said. “A lot of people go right to ‘understand me.’ I don’t want to understand your issue. We can do better on that.”
In his position as mayor during this pandemic, he’s seen all the various impacts the pandemic has had on people.
“To some people, it’s not even a real thing. To other people, they literally have not left their apartment for almost a year. And there’s a whole spectrum in-between, so we have to be empathic to that fact,” he said. “Everybody is dealing with this in a different way.”
Dr. Elliott agreed with TenHaken, calling the negative civil discourse throughout the pandemic “worrisome.”
“I hope we can find a way going forward to remember to treat everyone with respect,” Dr. Elliott said. “We should be welcoming different viewpoints. We can learn from that. We can all improve from that.”
Vaccines the ‘glowing hope’
As of Wednesday, South Dakota was reporting 173,596 persons have received at least 1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine from the state allocation. With the state and federal allocation combined, roughly 30% of the population has received at least one dose.
Dr. Elliott called the vaccines “our one glowing hope.” He pointed out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on vaccinated persons will continue to update as more is learned.
“The CDC is in an interesting spot. They have to have scientific proof to back up their recommendations,” Dr. Elliott noted. “We believe that getting vaccinated makes you less likely to catch the virus and maybe less likely to disperse the virus to other people. We believe that, we have evidence of that with other vaccines, but until we know that for sure with these vaccines, we just have to be cautious on how quickly we open things up.”