Omicron suspected cause of increase in South Dakotans seeking COVID-19 tests


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sanford Doctor says all the signs are pointing to an increase in COVID-19 cases. The Omicron variant was first detected in South Dakota 8 days ago. And it looks like it is spreading fast.

The lines are longer at Sanford’s drive-through COVID-19 testing unit. An Acute Care doctor tells KELOLAND News the number of people looking to be tested after Christmas has increased, in fact, it has more than doubled.

“Last week we were testing about 150 people every day through our drive-through and now we are testing over 400 people a day in the drive-through,” said Dr. Brian Tjarks.

The family practice physician at Sanford Health says he believes this indicates a likely increase in the Omicron variant.

“We are seeing patients wanting to come in because they have some symptoms after they got together with family and friends,” said Tjarks.

According to Dr. Tjarks, some people are getting tested before they attend a New Year’s gathering and others are traveling. Both the South Dakota Department of Health and Sanford are seeing positive test results in about one out of every five people who get tested. That’s around a 20 percent positivity rate, to put that in perspective, anything over 5 percent is concerning.

“I really think what that means is that we are going to be seeing more people ill with COVID, there are going to be a greater number of people that are transmitting the virus,” said Tjarks.

It’s up to everyone to make a personal choice if they are going to a gathering, if they show even the slightest symptom Dr. Tjarks urges people to get tested. This past week Omicron became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S.

“People need to understand that this variant is extremely contagious, it’s about 3 times as contagious as Delta was and even much more contagious than the beta virus, the original beta virus was. That’s really the biggest thing with this virus is it is extremely contagious,” said Tjarks.

People who are vaccinated can still get Omicron, however they are less likely to infect others and are less likely to become seriously ill.

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