While South Dakota is opening up ten new temporary testing sites, we’re looking into whether or not the state has been keeping its promises to the federal government when it comes to testing for COVID-19.
KELOLAND Investigates has been digging into the documents and reports and compares South Dakota and North Dakota testing rates and finds out why more testing matters in the battle against the spread of COVID-19.
A lot of federal money has been handed out to South Dakota for COVID-19 testing. South Dakota’s Department of Health got $69,165,864 in federal funds to expand testing. That money included flu season preparedness and getting ready for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
South Dakota also had to submit its COVID-19 testing projections to the feds in order to receive the money.
According to South Dakota’s testing plan, submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for May and June, South Dakota would test 35,280 individuals in May and 44,100 people in June.
It looks like that did not happen. According to our KELOLAND News records, in May, South Dakota tested 27,100 individuals and in June it tested 36,010 individuals.
On July 10th, the South Dakota Department of Health submitted its testing plans for July through the end of the year. The state pledged to test 55,000 individuals for active COVID-19 infection each month.
The South Dakota Department of Health website lists 44,223 tests as a monthly goal and tracks its performance. DOH officials have repeatedly said that the 44,233 goal is for the number of tests conducted each month to reach 5% of the state’s population. DOH officials said it is not a goal for the number of individuals tested.
“We are testing and we are testing well over our goal of 44,000. We were testing over 100,000 and nearly 150,000 tests for the month of October. And so while some of those individuals are tested multiple times, a lot of those individuals are tested for the first time as well.”Dr. Joshua Clayton, SD State Epidemiologist
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report to Congress on COVID-19 Strategic Testing Plan in May: “Modifications to the State plans may be necessary if patterns of virus transmission change or are projected to change, increased case rates are observed.”
“The state has not amended the current plan, but again as the numbers show we are well exceeding the goals that were set out initially,” SD Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.
The value in testing as many people as possible is to quickly identify where the disease is occurring; isolate those people; quarantine their contacts and that essentially really does help you preserve your hospital capacity and reduce the extensive spread we are seeing currently.”Grace Njau, ND Dept. of Health Director of Special Projects & Health Analytics
North Dakota received nearly $5 million less than South Dakota ($63,804,067) in federal funding for testing, but increased its testing goals from 105,000 individuals in June to 248,000 in December.
“It does have to be part of your strategy. You really do chose how you invest your dollars. I was quite impressed by how the state health department and governor’s office in North Dakota heavily invested in making sure if you want to get a test, you should be able to get a test,” Njau said.
“When you see a positivity rate that’s that high, it tells me there are quite a lot more cases that are undetected in that population,” Njau said.
Njau says while testing numbers and positivity rates can be figured out in different ways, the numbers don’t lie when it comes to hospitalizations and fatalities.
North Dakota’s hospitalizations (383) have been at about half of what South Dakota’s (607) have been, but deaths in North Dakota have been slightly higher (674 deaths in ND, vs 537 deaths in SD) due to a high number of cases in long-term care facilities.