PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Stopping the spread of the coronavirus continues to be in the hands of South Dakota residents.
South Dakota Department of Health officials said during an Aug. 27 news briefing that the agency would encourage people to wear masks when appropriate, practice physical social distancing, practice good hygiene and follow other personal health and safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state has not implemented any mandates or restrictions since the pandemic other than to close schools in March and later recommend they stay closed until May.
Gov. Kristi Noem did issue an executive order 2020-12 in March that recommended retail businesses follow a Center for Disease Control guideline of 10 people or less in an enclosed place where physical distance of six feet is not possible. EO 2020-12 also recommended that public and private businesses encourage telework and social distancing as well as other measures.
On Aug. 27, DOH secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon offered no recommendation for any restrictions or mandates to curb the spread of coronavirus, but she did talk about personal health and safety practices.
Responses from Malsam-Rysdon and Dr. Joshua Clayton, the DOH’s epidemiologist, to any possible recommendations for restrictions or mandates came after it was announced the state hit a record high of 2,000 active COVID-19 cases.
The record high also comes as about 22,000 students are scheduled to return to in-person learning this week in the Sioux Falls School District. Thousands of other students have already returned, or will return, to classrooms in the coming weeks. The fall 2019 K-12 enrollment for all public and private schools in the state was 151,601, according to the Department of Education.
The DOH is tracking the number of COVID-19 cases in public and private schools and will post those each Monday. As of Aug. 24, there were 70 cases in students and staff.
The 2,000 active COVID-19 cases are 1,979 more active cases than on March 24 when Noem requested schools be closed to in-person learning until May. There were 21 active cases on March 24.
While the number of active COVID-19 cases has increased in March, other things have also changed.
On March 24, Noem said that models for the impact of COVID-19 showed as many as 30% of the population could get COVID-19. Thirty percent of the state’s population is 265,398 of the state’s 884,659 residents or about the combined population of the city of Sioux Falls and Rapid City.
The state has 12,194 COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 27. Also, the projections of a need for as many as 5,000 hospital beds during the pandemic, which was reduced to 3,000 beds, have not been realized as of Aug. 27.
There were 75 people in the hospital as of Aug. 27. The DOH said that number includes people in South Dakota hospitals who may live in other states. The DOH said 983 South Dakota residents have needed hospitalization because of COVID-19 as of Aug. 27. The cumulative number of those ever hospitalized is only South Dakota residents, according to the DOH.
Although the state is not on pace to reach early projections for COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations, the spread of the virus continues.
Malsam-Rysdon said during Thursday’s news briefing that while COVID-19 case numbers are important so are hospitalization rates and other data. While there are 162 COVID-19 deaths, when data from March through July 21 is compared to the same time in 2019, more people over 60 died of other causes in 2019 than died of COVID-19, Malsam-Rysdon said.
The increase in active cases is driven in part by South Dakota residents younger than 30. Cases among students at colleges in the state continues to rise, according to COVID-19 reports by the public universities.
According to public university websites, there were 27 cases in students and staff at four public universities as of Aug. 26. South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota update their websites earlier in the day. As of Aug. 27, SDSU had 57 COVID-19 cases with staff and students and USD had 133.
Malsam-Rysdon said that when anyone comes into contact with other people it increases their risk of exposure.
“We know that the younger population in our state, as in other states, has been coming into contact with others at a higher rate, is the suspicion, and we think the numbers are bearing that out,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH, as it has since the beginning of COVID-19, encourages the public to take precautions, use good hygiene, avoid crowded areas and to not take COVID-19 lightly to slow the spread of the virus.
Shortly before the S.D. DOH news briefing, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa announced she was closing bars, taverns and nightclubs in six counties with increased COVID-19 cases, particularly cases in young adults. The counties are: Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story. Three counties are the sites of Iowa’s three public universities. The University of Iowa is in Johnson County, Iowa State University is Story County and the University of Northern Iowa is in Black Hawk County.