PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — KELOLAND Capitol News Bureau reporter Bob Mercer emailed a list of questions Wednesday morning to state Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton and department communications director Derrick Haskins about South Dakota’s COVID-19 situation. Here are responses Haskins provided Wednesday evening.

First, a basic question about terminology. How should news reporters describe what the state lab is doing regarding COVID-19 samples? Is the lab staff ‘confirming’ results or ‘analyzing’ or ‘testing’ or what? We are testing specimens.

How are the field-level samples being gathered? Mouth swabs, stool samples? CDC recommends the collection of nasopharyngeal specimens. (This refers to the nose and throat area.)

How long does one sample take to process? The testing process takes approximately 8 hours but can vary based on volume. 

Has the state lab refocused staff from other duties to concentrate on the incoming samples? If so, how would I describe that? We have cross-trained additional scientists and increased the number of support staff to assist with the testing process.

Has the central DOH office refocused staff from other duties to focus on the situation? Yes, we have employees from a variety of areas of the department who are assisting with the COVID-19 response. These employees are doing things like answering phone calls or assisting with shipping and receiving.

How much testing capacity does the state lab have? And has the lab secured a supply of testing supplies? The lab currently has an adequate number of tests. However, there is a nationwide shortage of supplies needed to run tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The South Dakota Public Health Laboratory (SDPHL) was able to run tests for medium and high-risk patients on Monday, March 16. However, the SDPHL did not receive additional supplies as expected to run tests beyond March 16, and there is no timeframe of when these supplies will be available from the CDC and our commercial suppliers.

On March 9, KELOLAND.com digital reporter Michael Geheren reported South Dakota had 1,900 tests available, according to Haskins. At that time, that was enough to test 900 people because each patient tested for coronavirus typically received two tests: a nose swab and throat swab. The testing guidelines from the CDC have changed twice since March 9.

On March 13, the CDC recommended to collect and test a single nose swab. On March 17, the guidelines updated the description of how to collect an accurate nasal swab. The CDC also recommended testing of “lower respiratory tract speciments.”

For perspective 900 tests represented 0.01% of the South Dakota population, based on 2019 population estimates, Geheren reported.

The governor said commercial testing would be starting. Where would those operations be and which organizations would be running them? Our state health systems are working on building commercial lab availability and we will work with those labs as needed to get tests run in our state. They are estimating this testing capacity will come on-line by the end of the week.

Has CDC issued guidelines for gauging a healthcare provider’s readiness on COVID-19? Where do South Dakota’s three major healthcare providers stand regarding readiness? The Department of Health as well as regional healthcare planning coalitions in the state have been planning for contingencies such as disasters or outbreaks for several years which includes among other things, surge capacity. This planning includes contingencies for additional capacity as the need arises. Individual hospitals and facilities also have preparedness plans in place.

How many respirators and ventilators are available in South Dakota? Is there a sharing agreement in place so they can be shifted within organizations and among organizations? Is there a backup plan in place if South Dakota develops more patients than there are available respirators and ventilators? We’re not able to provide specific numbers because ventilator availability fluctuates rapidly and can change multiple times in a single day like many medical supplies. We will continue to manage critical equipment like ventilators on a daily basis to ensure all available equipment is deployed where it is most needed.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen on Twitter regarding South Dakota state testing is that supposedly, so far, the only tests have been on people who traveled? Is this true? Can SDDOH provide county-by-county numbers for the negative results? Any medical provider is able to order a test for their patients if they believe it is necessary. We do not test asymptomatic individuals. For more information about the order in which tests are processed visit covid.sd.gov.

Are the steps that have been taken in South Dakota working to flatten the curve? What would some next steps be? We believe the interventions being implemented now will be effective. We will continue to evaluate the situation and make additional recommendations as appropriate.

How long should the restrictions stay in place? Is this a short-term situation or will there be long-term changes? We believe the interventions being implemented now will be effective. We will continue to evaluate situation and make additional recommendations as appropriate.

Regarding patients who contract the illness, what leads to death? And will lungs recover or will they be permanently damaged? COVID-19 infection can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, and respiratory failure. The long-term effects of COVID-19 infection are not known.

Beyond hand-washing and social distancing, what else should we be telling the public? If individuals have symptoms fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

NOTE: For daily updates visit KELOLAND.com or covid.sd.gov.