SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Now is not the time to let up with COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

That was the message shared by doctors with South Dakota’s two largest health care systems at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Avera Dr. David Basel, Vice President of Clinical Quality, and Sanford Dr. Mike Wilde, Vice President Medical Officer, both acknowledge there are encouraging signs when it comes to case counts in South Dakota.

According to the South Dakota Department of Health, there are 312 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 with 20,824 active cases. 

The state also reports 57% of South Dakota’s population 5-years-old and above has become fully vaccinated. 

Wilde says it’s been 10 straight days of dropping active cases in the state. Basel says Avera peaked in the number of COVID-19 cases it saw in the last week of January and they’ve found the spread rate is now below 1.0.

But he also shared Avera had one of its deadliest weeks last week with the deaths of 25 COVID-19 patients and he says the numbers at Avera remain higher than at any point in 2020.

Both doctors encouraged people to get vaccinated and get a booster shot. Wilde says doing so will greatly reduce your risk of getting severely ill and needing to be hospitalized. He says it is recommended to get the vaccine and a booster even if you have had COVID-19.

He says if you test positive with an at-home test, consider yourself positive and isolate. Wilde says the less the virus spreads in humans, the less chance it has to create new variants.

Basel says younger children may soon be able to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Wilde says the health care systems have seen vaccination for kids follow parental preferences and he hopes parents understand the importance to taking that precaution.

Both doctors offered words of appreciation for health care workers, who’ve been on the frontline of the pandemic for nearly two full years. Basel says while case numbers are dropping, hospital staff are still not feeling the relief from that decline.  In addition to recognizing the hard work from medical workers, Wilde recognized the partnerships both systems have with the city of Sioux Falls and state of South Dakota.

Basel also thanked the public for playing a role in the falling case numbers. He said if patients with mild symptoms continue to stay home, while others get vaccinated and boosted, numbers could really fall.

Basel says COVID-19 is having a mental health impact across the community. He says personal or family concerns as well as social concerns all add stress and anxiety to our daily lives. He asks that people reach out to somebody if you need help.