SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its second year in South Dakota, one Sanford doctor said many people in the public haven’t seen the bad effects of the virus. 

In a news conference held jointly by Avera Medical Group and Sanford Health, two longtime doctors spoke about health care systems needing help from the public. 

Dr. Mike Wilde, Sanford’s Vice President Medical Officer, shared a story about a recent shift he worked in the Sanford hospital. 

“It made me realize how little people probably see of COVID in the hospital,” Wilde said. “We see it every day and we see it in some very bad ways. It dawned on me that not a lot of people have seen this because we’ve been limiting visitation throughout the pandemic.” 

On Wednesday, Sanford announced changes to its visitor policy again. Each adult patient can have up to two visitors per day and they may not rotate throughout the day. 

Wilde said some people in the hospital with COVID-19 are people who have otherwise been very healthy.  

“It’s very dramatic and these folks are very ill,” Wilde said. “It’s very impressive how ill people can get with this.”

The news conference was held on the same day that South Dakota reported its highest number of active COVID-19 cases (34,086) along with a record high 7-day positivity rate of 40.9%. In Lincoln and Minnehaha Counties, there are 12,286 active cases and 157 hospitalizations of county residents.  

Dr. David Basel, Avera’s Vice President of Clinical Quality, said Avera has seen its COVID-19 hospitalization numbers double in the month of January. Basel said Jan. 1, Avera had just under 100 patients with COVID-19, but that number is more than 200 as of noon Thursday.

Basel highlighted COVID-19’s spread rate tracked by Avera is about 1.6, which is the highest number they’ve seen throughout the pandemic. 

“We are making harder and harder choices every day,” Basel said. “Those choices get harder every day as those numbers go up.” 

Basel said every time a patient is discharged or “way too often” dies, a discussion happens about which person is the next sickest to fill an empty bed. 

“We need the public’s help,” Basel said. “We need their help in several ways.” 

Basel called for people who have been vaccinated to get the booster shot. He said people who have been vaccinated but not boosted only have 30% protection against the Omicron variant. 

“You really need that booster to bump you back up to 70-80% effectiveness,” Basel said. “We have plenty of vaccine supply. If you want a booster, we’ll figure out a way to get it to you.” 

The South Dakota Department of Health reported 27 new Omicron sequenced results and four new Delta variant sequenced results. 

Wilde said unselfish actions of getting vaccinated and boosted will help hospital capacity and health care workers the most. 

“We continue to need your help,” Wilde said. “In the hospital, we see those who are greatly affected by COVID-19.” 

Lt. Governor says state continues to monitor hospital needs 

It was only Avera and Sanford doctors and media relations staff along journalists at Thursday’s news conference. In many previous news conferences, people with the South Dakota Department of Health or City of Sioux Falls have also attended. 

Both Basel and Wilde said Avera and Sanford continue to receive plenty of help and support from local and state governments. 

Basel said the DOH has been very helpful with trying to increase COVID-19 testing access. Basel said relationships between the health systems throughout South Dakota and with public health departments have never been tighter. 

“There’s no secrets amongst us when it comes to dealing with the pandemic,” Wilde said. 

During a news conference with reporters in Pierre on Thursday, Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden was asked about the COVID-19 situation in the state. 

Rhoden answered saying state officials are concerned, but added the state monitors COVID hospital beds and ICU beds. 

“We’re in relatively good shape in that regard,” said Rhoden, adding officials will continue to monitor the situation closely.