SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) has said she is using the facts, data and science to make decisions about how South Dakota responds to the COVID-19 pandemic and a new week brings a growing problem for the Sioux Falls area.

Based on data released by the South Dakota Department of Health on Monday, there are now 276.88 positive cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Over the weekend, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken compared that to Chicago and Seattle, while saying he asked Noem to issue a stay-at-home order for the city.

On Monday, TenHaken continued his call for intervention from the governor. He said he is looking for a three-week shelter-in-place order for the area.

Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls facility in a photo from KELO-TV

One of the main reasons for the spike in cases is due to a large outbreak at one of the nation’s largest meatpacking plants Smithfield Foods. The company announced on Sunday it was closing indefinitely after Noem and TenHaken wrote a letter to the CEO asking for a 14-day closure.

The Sioux Falls plant provides 130 millions servings of food per week, according to Smithfield.

“It’s not great news when you have to have your fourth-largest employer shutter their doors because of COVID,” TenHaken said on Monday.

The data shows an earlier surge in cases than Seattle or Chicago. As of Monday, it has been 35 days since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Minnehaha County. Meanwhile, in Cook County, where Chicago and several suburbs are located, it has been 81 days since the first positive case. The two cities with vastly different population sizes are neck and neck for cases per 100,000, but saw a spike almost one month apart.

TenHaken said he is highly concerned with the case numbers in Sioux Falls currently, saying the window for mitigation is dwindling right now. 

Noem acknowledged Sioux Falls’ peak may be earlier than the rest of the state, but as of Monday afternoon hadn’t issued a shelter-in-place order for the Sioux Falls area or state, other than one for those age 65+ or who have chronic medical issues.

Over the weekend, Noem criticized on Twitter the use of looking at cities on a per capita basis.

“You’ve seen the headlines comparing us to Chicago or Seattle based on percentage increases,” Noem wrote. “But that doesn’t tell the most accurate story.”

“It’s more appropriate to look at data THIS WAY than it is to look at percentage increases,” she wrote.

Per capita is a common measure to compare locations with different populations.

📈 Behind the math: The number of positive cases ➗ is divided by the population. Then you ✖ multiply that number by the average population size you want to look at. KELOLAND News used 100,000, as is consistent with other reporting.

Per capita is often used in financial reporting, including the state’s yearly annual financial report. Last month, Noem also cited two pandemic-related statistics that were per capita when it related to both testing and overall positive cases.

“Just a couple of facts for you,” Noem said in a March 31 media briefing. “We are 15th in the nation for testing, this includes all 50 states and Washington D.C. So while we are 15th in the percentage of our population that we’re testing per million, we are 45 in positives. That’s good news for us. It indicates that we are prepared for this marathon.”

The City of Sioux Falls uses per capita data to compare to other cities for modeling. On April 1, city public health director Jill Franken said officials were looking at similar cities: Fargo, N.D.; Omaha, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; Tallahassee, Fl.; and Dayton, Ohio.

KELOLAND News looked at the data in those areas and compared to Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, as well as some other counties in South Dakota.

Looking at the number of positive cases can be slightly misleading, however, because some states and areas of the state could be testing more frequently than others.

However, the data still shows on a per capita basis, South Dakota is 18th in the nation for testing as of Monday.

Overall, the state is 21st in the nation for cases of COVID-19, as of Sunday.

The governor announced Monday that South Dakota would become the first state for a statewide clinical trial on hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment for COVID-19 made popular by President Donald Trump.

The state is partnering with Sanford Health to lead the studies.

“Our goal is to meaningfully advance the science around COVID-19 so physicians can be better prepared to respond to and treat this novel virus in the future, especially for our populations most at-risk,” Dr. Allison Suttle, chief medical officer for Sanford Health, said.

The governor also pushed an app to help with the Department to Health with contact tracing, in the event a patient is found to be COVID positive.

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