PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem’s administration launches a mass-testing for COVID-19 in the coming days for every willing resident and staff member at every nursing home and assisted living center in South Dakota.
The plan marks a significant step up. South Dakota previously restricted testing to people who presented COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and dry cough, and for front-line health care providers, and, more recently, for specific situations, such as for people connected to the Smithfield pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls.
The new effort to reach thousands more people over the next four-plus weeks will roughly double the more than 27,000 tests that have already been conducted since the first positive cases in South Dakota were announced March 10.
The Trump administration recommended mass testing in long-term care facilities during a conference call with the nation’s governors led by Vice President Mike Pence on Monday, May 11.
“Folks recognize that this is a big lift. We’ll be administering thousands and thousands of tests, but that is a foundation for us in our response moving forward,” South Dakota Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon told news reporters Thursday, with the governor standing behind her, during a briefing at the state Capitol.
The first week will focus on nursing homes and assisted-living centers in places where there has been substantial community spread. The South Dakota Department of Health estimates about 7,400 residents and staff will be tested.
During the second week, testing moves to other nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout South Dakota. That will cover another 10,200 residents and staff.
In weeks three and four, other assisted living centers will follow, with about 4,300 people to be tested each week.
The plan also calls for testing in some Native American communities, starting with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
The Lake Traverse Reservation is in both Dakotas and the two state governments will focus on it next week, according to Malsam-Rysdon.
She said testing also will be done for certain employers that are designated as essential and as critical infrastructure.
“I think we all know how important it is that people are able to work and be safe when they’re at work. That is another priority group we’ll be focusing on,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
After nursing home and assisted living centers populations have been tested, the drive will head next to congregate living settings, such as places that serve individuals with intellectual disabilities, and group homes, she said. Those efforts are still being planned.
“This is really just the start of us doing aggressive testing in the state of South Dakota, focusing on those vulnerable people on a mass-testing level, so that we can ensure that we don’t have COVID in those populations. Where we do, we can isolate that, and hopefully not see large outbreaks,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
There would be “continued aggressive testing” in settings where positive cases are found, she said.
Testing will continue to be available to patients with COVID-19 symptoms and health care providers, according to Malsam-Rysdon.
Through 5 p.m. Thursday, South Dakota has had 3,887 positive cases, including 1,269 currently active. There were 2,574 recovered, with 80 people currently in hospital care, while 44 people have died. Another 23,527 tests have come back negative. Among the 66 counties, 49 have at least one resident who tested positive.