SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — With Christmas about a week away, health officials are warning people to be cautious with any holiday gatherings.

Sanford Health says it is seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients along with people seeking treatment for other illnesses.

A couple of times last week Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls was treating more than their maximum of 450 patients.

And after two years of a pandemic…

“It’s exhausting, it’s just simply exhausting, and I think that is one of the major concerns as you go into a holiday season or otherwise,” Sanford’s Chief Physician Dr. Jeremy Cauwels said.

Dr. Cauwels is concerned there is a perception out there that there is plenty of room in the hospital, and that ICU beds are readily available. For instance, the state health department website reports 29.5 percent of the state’s adult ICU beds are open.

“Sanford has the largest number of intensive care beds in the state, but they are actually divided up into pediatric intensive care unit beds, neo natal intensive care unit beds and adult ICU beds, and we are unfortunately not able to interchange those,” Dr. Cauwels said. “So, if you look at that graphic it shows that we have lots of open ICU beds, but what I can tell you is, I will not fit in a neonatal intensive care unit bed, those little cribs won’t work or me. And it’s important for us to recognize in adult ICU beds we are very, very tight right now.” 

Even though he is the chief physician, Dr. Cauwels still works the floor at the hospital on occasion. Half the patients he admitted this week were unvaccinated people sick with COVID-19. He says those patients are inadvertently impacting other sick people.

“One of the other admissions I did was a 34-year-old with a kidney stone. Now a 34 with a kidney stone for me is a pretty normal admission, it shouldn’t take that long and it shouldn’t be that hard to put up on the floor. That unfortunate woman had to wait 8 hours for a hospital bed.”

Dr. Cauwels encourages people to get vaccinated as well as get the booster, saying it is the clearest path to putting the pandemic behind us.

The latest hospital data from Monument Health in Rapid City also shows the importance of getting the vaccine.

Of the 29 COVID-19 patients in Monument hospitals, 86 percent are unvaccinated. All of the patients in the ICU or on ventilators are also unvaccinated.