SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Nurses, doctors and other health care workers have worked tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to keep us safe; most of us can probably name at least one person who fits that bill.

Ariel Neu is a medical testing technician for Avera Health.

Santella: Any idea how many noses you’ve swabbed for COVID-19?

“I can’t even ballpark it, it has been so many,” Neu said.

Each of those tests provides vital information to keep people safe.

“It feels good that we’re able to help them and get them some answers,” Neu said.

Nichte Mueller, a licensed practical nurse with Avera Health, has been giving COVID-19 shots for more than a year.

“I started in December 2020 when the vaccine first came out, so I was one of the first nurses to give the vaccine to the medical professionals,” Mueller said.

More than a half million South Dakotans have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I was keeping count at first, but I lost count because it was so many people that we received,” Mueller said.

Joleen Miller, a registered nurse with Avera, has also helped a lot of people get their shots.

“It feels really great, and I feel really fortunate I’ve been able to be a part of giving out the rollouts of the vaccine and helping people get their vaccines,” Miller said.

Since the start of the pandemic in South Dakota, COVID-19 has meant thousands of hospitalizations. Sanford Health acute care physician Dr. Brian Tjarks has seen a lot of patients.

Santella: Do you have any idea how many patients you’ve evaluated for COVID-19?

“A rough estimate, probably, well I know we’ve had about 130,000 patients come through this,” Tjarks said last week. “I’ve probably done probably 20 to 30,000 of those patients that I’ve evaluated myself as they’ve come through the drive-through.”

Sometimes, the commitment means being out in all of South Dakota’s elements.

“My mittens on, my insulated coveralls and trying to evaluate each patient as they come through the drive-through,” Tjarks said.

“You just have to roll with it and do your best, but it can be very hot with all the PPE, but then it’s very cold also, even with all of the gear that we have,” Neu said.

Tjarks says there is stress involved with the fight against COVID-19, too, given the possibility of exposure.

“It’s been a stressful experience for all of us that are trying to provide the care to these patients with COVID-19,” Tjarks said.

But there’s support in each other.

“I work with a fabulous team of providers, nurses, administrators in order to get the best possible care for patients,” Tjarks said.

The pandemic has taken a lot from many people, sometimes taking everything. Professionals such as Tjarks, Neu, Miller and Mueller have given a lot to stem the tide.

“I’m happy to be a part of it,” Neu said. “I’m glad to help as many people as I can.”

“I love what I do,” Tjarks said. “I love providing care to patients, whether it’s care through the drive-through or care inside of a clinic. This is my passion, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The latest numbers from the South Dakota Department of Health include 423 hospitalizations because of COVID-19.