PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Department of Health officials were asked about the Sept. 6 report from the federal Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, which recommends the state do more COVID-19 testing and aggressively encourage social distancing and using face coverings.
The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus is a federal task force created by President Donald Trump’s administration. ABC News obtained and released the report.
One of the recommendations from the Sept. 6 report is to “aggressively promote social distancing and use of face coverings, particularly in indoor settings, statewide,” in light of continued increasing case counts, the high positivity rate and insufficient testing.
KELOLAND News specifically asked South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon about a Twitter photo posted on Gov. Kristi Noem’s account that shows the governor shoulder-to-shoulder without a mask in a group of students and young adults at the state fair.
Malsam-Rysdon said she had not seen the photo and said KELOLAND News should ask Noem’s office about the photo. Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH works under Noem’s leadership and the DOH consistently promotes following Center for Disease Control recommendations that include social distancing and wearing face coverings.
“The photos provide an example of South Dakotans making decisions for themselves and their loved-ones,” Ian Fury, the communications director for Noem, said in an email response to KELOLAND News questions about photos where Noem is not social distancing or wearing a mask.
When asked about Noem’s lack of personal effort to encourage social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, Malsam-Rysdon said she disagrees with the assessment as the DOH operates under the leadership of Gov. Noem.
“We’ve been very clear about getting CDC recommendations out…,” Malsam-Rysdon said. The DOH encourages social distances and other measures, she said.
Malsam-Rysdon said the media also had a role in promoting those measures.
Fury’s original response to KELOLAND’s questions was to cite low hospitalizations rates and low need of intensive care unit beds by COVID-19 patients. In the five months since Noem implemented her Back to Normal plan, there has been “tremendous economic and business activity as a result,” he said.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Noem has provided South Dakotans with up-to-date science, facts, and data and trusted them to use that information to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones,” Fury said in his email.
The Sept. 6 report cites the state’s red zone status for the last week with the second highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the nation. The report also highlighted specific locations that had red zones.
The Sept. 6 report states “continued increasing case counts and remarkably high test positivity in the context of insufficient testing levels are deeply concerning…”
One of the recommendations from the report is: “Testing is critical for epidemic control and needs to be expanded across the state.”
Malsam-Rysdon said the state plans to increase testing for COVID-19.
“We are working on some specific strategies right now to increase testing,” she said.
Another subcommittee recommendation is to follow hospital data closely to ensure that capacity is sufficient.
Malsam-Rysdon said the state is encouraged by continued low hospitalization rates. As of Sept. 10, 83 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
When asked if the DOH had a specific hospitalization number that would trigger severe concern or push the panic button. Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH has not identified a specific number of hospitalizations that would prompt questioning the current response.
The state is not even in the ballpark of what the worst case scenario of hospitalization rates was at the beginning of the pandemic, she said. That level would be about 5,000 people a day in the hospital, she said.
The DOH continues to communicate with hospitals about available beds and supply needs, Malsam-Rysdon said.
The subcommittee also recommended using the Abbot BinaxNow to establish weekly survelliance in testing critical populations such as K-12 teachers, staff at nursing homes and similar facilities.
Malsam-Rysdon said 61 school districts are enrolled in sentinel testing in the state and there is room for more districts to take part.
The DOH has also been conducting testing at nursing homes and similar facilities for several weeks.