SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Health care leaders from Sioux Falls medical systems along with the city’s public health director sounded an alarm on the increase in COVID-19 cases in the area during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Avera’s Dr. David Basel, Sanford Health’s Dr. Mike Wilde and Sioux Falls public health director Dr. Charles Chima all spoke about the need to refocus on mitigation efforts and increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Dr. Wilde says now is the time to take action. He says there is uniform agreement about the importance of having in-person school. He’s encouraging communities to escalate public health safety measures including wearing masks, avoiding large crowds and hand washing.

Wilde said projections show Sioux Falls is three to four weeks away from another COVID-19 peak in cases and hospitalizations. 

Dr. Wilde said hospitals are concerned about full facilities and not being able to take care of patients with heart attacks or other daily medical emergencies. He calls on people to wear masks, saying it’s again required at all Sanford facilities.

Avera’s Dr. Basel repeated the need to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We’ve got a window of opportunity here,” Basel said, before the booster doses arrive this fall and vaccine demand will pick up again. He encourages the unvaccinated to go now.

On Avera hospital capacities, Basel said the hospital was pretty full going into August. He says Avera is still working through a backlog of delayed care from the start of the pandemic. He says Avera has “battle tested” surge plans if needed, but they are hoping it won’t be necessary if mitigation efforts are followed starting now.

Dr. Chima also stressed the importance improving the COVID-19 vaccination rate in the area. He says around the world, a lot of people want the vaccine. He says it’s not too late to get vaccinated and called it a perfect time to seek a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Chima says if you aren’t sure where to go for a COVID-19 vaccine, you can call 211.

Chima adds it is clear there’s an epidemic of the unvaccinated. He says it doesn’t matter how old or how young, if you are unvaccinated you are at risk.

With students back in school, Wilde says it is important for anyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to do so. As for what students who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated should do now, Wilde highlights social distancing, hand hygiene and masking in all school settings.

Asked about Monument Health, Dr. Wilde says care is prioritized to be given as close to home as possible, but noted Monument Hospital numbers are a concern. Just this week, members of the South Dakota National Guard were activated to help with COVID-19 testing on the western side of the state.