South Dakota outbreak projections shift once more


Jordan Rusche, Copy Editor

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, along with Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon and Josh Clayton, South Dakota’s state epidemiologist, reported on the new models predicting the state’s peak infection date during her April 15 press briefing.

According to a model shown by Clayton, the new number of hospital beds needed at the peak is 2,500, half of the original prediction.

The model lists three possible peak dates: mid-April with 10,000 hospital beds needed, should social distancing and isolation guidelines not be followed, a peak in mid-June following current strategies that would require 5,000 hospital beds and the newly-projected peak, also in mid-June, which would require 2,500 beds based on both social distancing efforts since April 3 and newly gathered information the rate of spread.

While these projections have improved due to social distancing efforts, Noem urged South Dakotans not to ease up on their efforts to contain the virus and stated that she is still prepared to provide 5,000 beds for the state should it need them.

“I want to reiterate that the numbers look better. It looks like we’re going to need less hospital beds, it looks like we will need less ventilators,” Noem said. “I am going to continue to ask that we all stay on the same path we have been on for the last two weeks.”

Allison Suttle, chief medical officer of Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, Brad Archer, chief medical officer of Monument Health in Rapid City and David Basel, pediatrics and internal medicine at Avera Health in Harrisburg joined the press briefing via video as well, to provide their opinions on the current models. Noem took the opportunity to thank the healthcare system in South Dakota for their collaboration throughout the outbreak.

The hospital representatives all spoke briefly about their views on the current initiatives for the coming peak infection date. Suttle, for example, stated she believes the new models provided a more realistic picture of the outbreak in South Dakota but thinks continued testing is the best strategy for the increasing number of cases.

Noem also addressed the Smithfield Foods COVID-19 outbreak once again and stated that CDC officials would be touring the plant tomorrow.

These officials will create a checklist of measures needed to be completed before the plant can reopen. Noem explained that they will be working with state and local officials in order to effectively address these eventual issues.

“[We are] working on a plan to safely reopen the plant and get it back online to bring some relief, not only to our ag producers but to make sure that we’re continuing to secure our nation’s food supply,” she said.

According to Malsam-Rysdon, there are currently 518 Smithfield workers positive for the virus, and 126 positive cases in individuals who came into contact with these workers.

This outbreak has also placed Sioux Falls’ peak infection date to mid-May, about a month sooner than the rest of the state.

South Dakota has acquired nine rapid ID machines, which will be distributed to eight different locations throughout the state in order to continue testing effectively.

These locations include Prairie Lakes Hospital in Watertown, Community Memorial Hospital in Redfield, the Huron Regional Medical Center in Huron, the city of Sioux Falls, which will receive two machines, Mobridge Regional Hospital in Mobridge, the Bennett County Hospital in Martin, the Fall River Hospital in Hot Springs and a Monument Health Facility in Spearfish.

The governor’s Town Hall meeting will take place over South Dakota Public Broadcasting tonight at 7 p.m. CST. The meeting will last one hour, and both Noem and Malsam-Rysdon will be answering questions from the public about health concerns. Steven Westra, the commissioner of economic development, will be answering business and economy-related questions as well.