SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota set new record highs for South Dakotans currently ill with COVID-19 and the count of those hospitalized due to the disease, as the virus' sustained surge continues to envelop the state, according to a Forum News Service analysis of the state health department of health data released Monday, Oct. 5.

There are now 4,274 people currently known to be sick with COVID-19, nearly double the number from a month ago.. There are also 241 people in South Dakota hospitals for COVID-19, double the number seen in mid-September.

Leaders of the state's two largest health systems said Monday they're adding bed capacity in their Sioux Falls hospitals. Avera McKennan Hospital's intensive care units passed 75% capacity this past week, a trigger point for the Sioux Falls-based health system, Avera McKennan President and CEO Dave Flicek said. Flicek said the new ICU beds were triggered by a filling ICU, but also by an expected need for their use in the upcoming influenza season.

Avera McKennan is adding 12 new ICU beds and 24-35 "surge" beds to the hospital's overall bed capacity. Sanford Health, also based in the city, will add 16 additional mixed-use beds, for either medical/surgical or ICU use, in the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, said Sanford's Dr. Michael Wilde.

Both Flicek and Wilde acknowledged their hospitals are dealing with more patients than usual, partially due to COVID-19 patients and a usual seasonal rush likely strengthened by the return of people who put off care earlier this year during the early days of the pandemic.

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“We’re in a really good spot," Flicek said. "I think we’re pre-planning, we’re getting in front of this, and so at this point it’s manageable."

Sioux Falls mayor advocates for masks

Sioux Falls officials arranged the Monday news conference about COVID-19, and said they would plan on holding one every other week for the time being.

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said all 1,300 city employees would be required to wear masks, effective Monday, Oct. 5. He said he wouldn't be instituting a masking mandate citywide "at this time" but encouraged other business leaders to follow his lead.

"I consider myself the chief executive of one of Sioux Falls' largest employers and that’s a step I can take to ensure our critical workforce remains healthy while also protecting the residents around them," TenHaken said. "I’m asking other businesses, not only in this city, but in this region to consider doing similar measures to help slow our spread."

Both health system leaders confirmed that the majority of the COVID-19 patients their two systems were treating were outside the Sioux Falls area, and increasingly local hospitals were treating patients who live nearby, instead of earlier in the pandemic when COVID-19 patients were treated in Sioux Falls' medical centers.

Jill Franken, the Sioux Falls public health director, reviewed the current COVID-19 statistics and pointed to an alarming rise in cases and hospitalizations in the city and region.

"Bottom line: We need to reverse these trends. Mitigating the spread of this virus and being able to get a handle on this is the essence of public health," she said. "It’s the public’s responsibility to do what we need to do to reverse this trend and mitigate the spread of this virus.”

Noem promotes approach in Pierre speech

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem only briefly mentioned the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in the state, in her remarks before a special one-day session of the state Legislature in the Capitol in Pierre on Monday.

"Even with the recent uptick of cases across the Midwest, in South Dakota, only 10% of hospital capacity is taken up with COVID patients," she said.

Her remarks instead focused on her decision to take a relatively hands-off approach early in the pandemic, and the economic benefits that brought to the state compared to those who took aggressive measures to step the spread of the virus, including business closures and lockdowns.

Lawmakers were meeting to decide how to spend the millions of dollars given to the state by Congress for COVID-19 relief.

Testing uncovered an additional 180 positive cases, on day of low testing totals, according to the state Department of Health's daily updated COVID-19 data dashboard. Daily testing has run well over 1,000 people a day in recent weeks. New testing reported Monday totaled only 668, with a test positive rate of 27%

One hundred seventy four people are considered newly recovered from the virus. There are 248 South Dakotans who have died due to COVID-19. No new fatalities have been reported since Friday, Oct. 2.

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