SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The race to end the COVID-19 pandemic is heating up. 

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced vaccine supply for Americans would be at 300 million by the end of May. As of Wednesday, South Dakota is reporting 26% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. There’s been more good news than bad news when it comes to the current state of the pandemic, but health officials continue calling on people to remain vigilant.

“A lot of epidemics, pandemics have had three major waves,” Avera Dr. David Basel said. “We’ve kind of been through two of them and we’re hoping to avoid a third one.” 

Alongside the vaccine effort, the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have each stabilized after declines in December and January. Nearly a year after the pandemic started in South Dakota, Dr. Basel continues to compare the current state of the pandemic to a race. A race between getting enough people to become vaccinated before another surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths come from the virus. 

As of March 3, South Dakota has reported 112,833 total coronavirus cases, 1,993 active cases, 6,654 hospitalizations and 1,893 deaths. 

As Dr. Basel noted, South Dakota had a slight peak in early May 2020 and a large peak in mid-November. Single-day reporting peaks for active cases happened on Nov. 15 with 19,360, Nov. 10 with 607 current hospitalizations and Nov. 28 with 54 deaths. More stabilized seven-day data averages showed peaks of just under 1,500 for new cases per week, just under 600 for current hospitalizations per week and just under 30 for deaths per week.  

South Dakota state epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton emphasized actions taken by the public did impact the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths at the state’s peak. 

“All the precautions people take, washing hands, avoiding crowds, staying away from people, wearing masks, all increase prevention against COVID-19,” Dr. Clayton said, who added as the vaccine continues to be distributed, mitigation measures should still remain a high priority. 

Dr. Basel agreed the same mitigation measures remain just as important in March 2021 as they did in March 2020. 

“I get it. Folks are getting tired of COVID and tired of social distancing and the masking,” Dr. Basel said. “We really do have a window here. If we can drive these rates down as low as possible before these variants hit us. And allow us to get people vaccinated, we’ll be able to avoid that third wave.” 

Both Dr. Basel and Dr. Clayton pointed to COVID-19 variants, especially ones that could elude or lessen protection from current vaccines, as the biggest threat in the pandemic. Dr. Clayton did not dive into specifics about what another wave of coronavirus cases would look like in South Dakota, but highlighted the importance of the vaccine. 

“Every day that we go and get more shots in arms, the less impact we’ll see from any potential future increase in cases,” Dr. Clayton said. “Any variants not covered by a vaccine would lead to future increases.”

As for COVID-19 variants, South Dakota remains one of only a few states not reporting any variant cases. Both Avera and the state health lab have said daily testing is being done to check for variants. 

As of Sunday, 46 different states and US territories have reported the UK variant known at B117. Every state surrounding South Dakota except Montana has reported at least one case of this COVID-19 variant. 

Dr. Basel said the UK variant “doesn’t look as scary as some of the other variants out there.” He pointed to the South African (B1.351) and Brazil (P1) variants as the ones being watched more closely. 

People fully vaccinated should continue taking precautions 

For the 79,686 South Dakotans fully vaccinated after receiving two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, both Dr. Basel and Dr. Clayton urge them to continue practicing good mitigation measures like social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions. 

“We know if you get exposed to the virus later, you’re going to have a high likelihood to fight it off,” Dr. Basel said. “During that time period your immune system fights off that virus, will you be contagious? That’s the part we don’t really know.”

Dr. Basel said it takes a few weeks after getting the vaccine for it to be fully effective. He said Avera has seen a few cases of people getting COVID-19 right after getting vaccinated. 

“It doesn’t really kick in for a little while,” Dr. Basel said. “It’s a slow walk back to normal after you’ve been vaccinated. It’s not a ticket to get out of COVID.”