Department of Health announces four-week mass testing plans


Jordan Rusche, Copy Editor

Kim Malsam-Rysdon, South Dakota’s secretary of health, announced in Gov. Kristi Noem’s press briefing on May 14 that mass testing throughout the state will begin next week.

The testing will begin with vulnerable populations, specifically nursing home and assisted living residents and staff, in areas of significant community spread. The second week of testing will move to nursing homes and assisted livings in other areas of the state. Finally, the third and fourth week would cover any remaining populations not covered already in these locations.

Malsam-Rysdon also stated that the South Dakota Department of Health will be working to test tribal communities in the state, starting with the Sisseton-Wahpeton area next week, and essential employers and workers throughout the state. After mass testing, ongoing random testing will take place across the state, as well.

Noem added that with the mass testing she expects an increase in positive cases for the state, as much of the initial testing will occur in areas with a high rate of spread. With better efficiency in supply chains and acquiring personal protective equipment, this mass testing also should not affect current testing already in place.

Noem also addressed her ongoing efforts to convince the federal government to allow South Dakota to give some of the $1.25 billion allocations for COVID-19 relief to counties and local governments affected by the virus.

“This pandemic cannot be an excuse to grow bureaucracy or the scope of government. The future of South Dakota is going to be in the hands of the people,” Noem said.

As of right now, the money is still supposed to be used solely to “grow government,” or create more government programs, and cannot be put towards improving revenue loss. She urged local officials and treasurers, however, to keep track of their own expenses in regard to COVID-19, such as the cost of personal protective equipment, cleaning, testing and medical response, in the event these funds can be re-allocated.

The governor answered questions about COVID-19 checkpoints set up by tribal communities and reported that the state government has sent potential checkpoint plans to the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux tribes, who have both communicated they are looking them over.

“We’re communicating, we’re talking with our tribes, we’re working out a plan… My hope is we can stay united, continue the conversations and come up with a resolution that will protect the people of South Dakota and make sure we’re making the best decisions going forward,” Noem said.

Cabinet Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation Marcia Hultman also joined Noem and Malsam-Rysdon to address the current efforts of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation in processing unemployment claims in the state. 

Hultman stated that for the week of May 3-9, 1,202 additional initial claims were filed. This increased the total claims numbers to 23,719, and an increase in claims filed was due to offering PUA and PEUC benefits for those who are self-employed or have exhausted their claims weeks, respectively.

According to Hultman, her department still has many claims yet to be processed, and she reminded those who have filed claims that the process can be sped along by checking the status of their claim online, making sure the information entered on the forms is correct and making weekly requests for payment. Hultman added that claims without any issues should take 14 days to process.