HURON, S.D. (KELO) — Nine people received a free COVID-19 test in Beadle County Monday morning — the first day the community testing site reopened.
A free COVID-19 testing program has not been available in Huron since the end of March, but Beadle County COVID-19 Task Force members believe more testing options were needed as the more-contagious Delta variant strain of COVID-19 reached South Dakota.
Dr. Joe Carr, a member of the task force and chiropractor in Huron, said he’s a “firm believer in a free testing site so everyone can have access to it.”
“You keep those patients out of clinics, out of the hospital, in a safe environment where we’re all [wearing PPE] (personal protective equipment) and ready to go,” Carr said.
The Huron Regional Medical Center and other health clinics do provide COVID-19 tests, but Carr said the health systems have to charge for COVID-19 tests. He said members of the task force are “fearful that a lot of people may not be getting tested because they don’t have $80 or $100 or whatever to get tested per person.”
Carr added he hopes more federal money will be available to support free community testing sites.
Testing is from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday of each week. Carr said last year and this year, those have been the busiest testing days. No appointment is needed, but no pre-travel or pre-surgery tests will be given. Test results will also be given before people leave the testing site.
“We know COVID is out there, we just know we need to get people to get tested and get a better pulse on that number,” Carr said.
Beadle County is currently reporting 92 active cases of COVID-19 and the Huron Regional Medical Center has one COVID-19 occupied hospital bed. Carr said the task force “needed to be more proactive to stop any significant spread” which resulted in opening the free testing site and setting requirements for infection rates.
There’s been 8,738 people who have been vaccinated in Beadle County, which had a population of 18,453 in the 2020 census. That’s a 47% vaccination rate.
Specifically, Carr said task force leaders are looking to track how many people in Beadle County are getting tested, what the positivity rate is, who the positive cases are and if they’re related to the school district. Masks are required in Huron public schools, but new guidelines for masks will be set on infection rates.
- YELLOW: Full masking for the Huron School District will be 1% or 33 students and/or staff, while the 1% infection rate includes each school (5 at three elementary schools, 7 at the middle school or 8 at the high school).
- ORANGE: An infection rate of .33% (11 students &/or staff) in Huron School District will place the entire district in with masking required while moving between classes and on all transportation.
- GREEN: An infection rate of .32% or less (10 students &/or staff or less) will place the district with no masking required.
“I’m really so proud of our community,” said Carr, who noted school board meetings about COVID-19 precautions have gone well. “Everybody understands we have a situation and they all have different opinions on how we should or shouldn’t react.”
Carr said the task force set the clear thresholds based on COVID-19 data in the county to show clear data “for people that don’t want to wear a mask” or “question our numbers.”
To get the best COVID-19 data, Carr said the task force needed to reopen its free community testing site. He noted a story published in the Huron Plainsman newspaper showed Beadle County had nearly three-times as many active cases on Sept. 14, 2021, as compared to Sept. 14, 2020.
“We were doing community testing very busy and actively every day then,” Carr said about the 2020 numbers.
Beadle County dealt with a couple of “community deaths” early in the pandemic and Carr believes those deaths helped get a strong task force created and got the community to support the task force.
“Everybody has worked together,” Carr said. “The big thing is, it probably has to occur at a local level. Locally, everyone is looking at their own numbers and their own situation.”
He said people have to learn to live with COVID-19, but he also emphasized “what’s defined as living with it, but still not putting people at risk that could lead to hospitalization and death. And also keeping our health care providers and our hospital available to take care of people other than COVID.”