SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — New cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 in South Dakota are continuing to climb, hitting rates not seen in months. With 2,332 active cases and 125 hospitalizations on Friday (including 39 in the ICU and 20 on ventilators) KELOLAND News sat down with S.D. Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon to discuss the state’s current status and future outlook amidst the continuing pandemic.
“We’re seeing an increase in cases, and that’s not wholly unexpected,” said Malsam-Rysdon. “The virus will infect people, and a certain amount of those folks will become sick enough to be needing hospitalization.”
Malsam-Rysdon says that what is known is that vaccines are effective at reducing the likelihood that someone contracting COVID will need to be hospitalized.
“About 94% [of people hospitalized] in fact, since January 1st, have been among folks that are unvaccinated,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
Five days after the official end of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Malsam-Rysdon was hesitant to project a rise in COVID cases relating to the event that saw over 500,000 vehicles enter the city of around 7,000 residents.
“I don’t think it’s fair to attribute cases to any one event. To the degree that we know people are in fact coming in contact with each other at higher rates — that’s everything from, you know, county fairs to the Sturgis Rally to schools opening to families getting together.”
One factor that may contribute to the increasing amounts of positive cases in South Dakota is the prevalence of the Delta variant.
According to the DOH COVID-19 Dashboard, there are currently 74 reported cases of the Delta variant in the state. Malsam-Rysdon says that this number however is not indicative of the variant’s actual spread.
“I can tell you that we know that Delta is the predominant strain of COVID in the state,” said Malsam-Rysdon. “At this point we know that well over 90% of all cases are the Delta variant.”
Malsam-Rysdon says this discrepancy between the reported numbers and the reality of the Delta variant in South Dakota are due to the fact that not all COVID tests are sequenced to determine which variant of the virus they are. She says that the state has more capacity to sequence tests, and encourages healthcare providers in the state to send duplicate samples in for testing.
Discussing what South Dakotans need to be doing at this point, Malsam-Rysdon had straight-forward advice.
“The things that we need to do are the same, you know. Be careful around other folks; get vaccinated. It really is the best tool we have,” she said. “If you have symptoms, of COVID, please get tested because then you can take action to keep yourself safe and keep others safe.”
One element of keeping others safe that Malsam-Rysdon came back to throughout the conversation was the importance of responding to contact tracing efforts. “We have over a hundred folks helping us with contact tracing right now — if you get a text from the Department of Health (DOH) about a positive COVID test or about being a close contact, please help us,” she said.
Malsam-Rysdon says their contact tracing efforts will rely on getting good contact information. “If we get that information — phone numbers; emails; where people pick up the phone — that really greatly increases the time that we’re able to control.”
Getting accurate contact tracing information with be a priority this coming school year, as some districts have chosen to forego contact tracing efforts of their own, instead relying on the DOH to do it. Malsam-Rysdon says that if they are able to get the appropriate contact info, the DOH should be able to contact families about positive tests and close contacts in school within 24 hours.
“There will be delays if we don’t get that information,” Malsam-Rysdon warns.
Malsam-Rysdon recognizes that some people may be wary of calls, texts and emails claiming to be part of a contact tracing operation.
“You’re going to see messaging from the Department of Health,” she says. “The number itself won’t necessarily look like the Department of Health — but certainly the person you talk to will be able to identify themselves as a person from the Department of Health.”
If you’re unsure about the veracity of a contact tracing call or message from the DOH, Malsam-Rysdon said you can ask for a call back number. She also said contact tracers will be asking questions specific to places where you might have been in contact with somebody with COVID, and will never ask for information like your social security number or bank info, and will never demand money for testing.
When it comes to keeping you children and family safe as school comes back into session, Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH is following the guidance of the CDC, and that includes masking up. “The Department of Health follows and provides the CDC recommendations around these efforts,” she said.
Jacob Newton: “So is that to say that the recommendation is mask use, or what is the official recommendation?”
Malsam-Rysdon: “The CDC’s recommendation is that students and teachers in school settings do wear masks.”
The main point Malsam-Rysdon said she wanted to drive home is the importance of testing and getting vaccinated.
“We know vaccines are safe and effective,” she said. “We’ve had folks that are concerned about maybe their fertility, wanting to become pregnant — who are pregnant maybe — we know the latest data around vaccine safety for people that are pregnant is that vaccines are safe and that they’re the right choice to protect you and your baby.”