Local COVID-19 Headlines: March 26
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5 New COVID-19 Cases

The state Department of Health reports 5 new cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota, for a statewide total of 46.

Of those new cases, three are in Minnehaha County. Beadle and Lincoln county each have a single new case.

While the statewide total includes one death, the governor points out 16 of the state’s COVID-19 patients have fully recovered.

State Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon to be considered fully recovered, patients must not have symptoms…must be fever-free for 72 hours…and must have stayed home for two weeks.

The number of tests still pending in the state lab has dropped to 125. Governor Noem expects to resolve all tests still pending in the state lab by Monday.

Thune Returns to SD After Falling Ill

South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune is at his home in Sioux Falls. A spokesman says the senator woke up Wednesday morning not feeling well. Thune is the number two ranking Republican in the Senate and missed yesterday’s vote on a $2 trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package.

Thune took a charter flight from Washington to Sioux Falls. He and one member of his Capitol Police security detail were the only passengers. Thune wore a mask for the duration of the flight. He’s consulting with his doctor.

Health Systems Issue Travel Guidelines for Employees

Two of the state’s largest health care systems, Avera and Sanford, are asking employees NOT to travel as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus. However their policies differ on personal travel decisions.

Avera Health is discouraging all employees from any kind of travel. In a statement, employees must tell their supervisors if they plan travel outside the Avera footprint. Before returning to work, they must contact employee health services regardless of symptoms or possible exposure.

Any Avera employees who travel by air must contact employee health services…complete 14 days of isolation…and be symptom free before coming back to work.

Sanford Health has stopped all non-essential work-related travel. A statement says a 14-day isolation period is required only if an employee has gone on a cruise or visited a level-3 travel notice country. That CDC designation includes almost 30 European countries with widespread COVID-19 cases.

For domestic travel, the Sanford statement says, “Employees weigh their risks and options and follow all CDC guidelines.”

Neither Sanford nor Avera mentioned how any necessary self-isolation would reflect on paid time off policies.

Earlier this week, a Monument Health employee who recently traveled out of state tested positive for COVID-19. More than 100 people are now being monitored after potential contact with that employee in the system’s Rapid City care unit.

Monument Health President and CEO Paulette Davidson said the health system had protocols for international travel, but not domestic.

Ellsworth AFB Declares Public Health Emergency

Ellsworth Air Force Base has declared a public health emergency in order to give its commander additional authority to enforce social distancing strategies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials said the declaration also better aligns the base with national guidance.

South Dakota health officials say the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 rose to 41 Wednesday, but no cases have been reported on the base.

The commander could expand the civilian leave policy and further restrict base access under the declaration.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Leaders encouraged base families to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and practice social distancing and good personal hygiene.

240,000 South Dakotans Could Potentially Be Infected

Dr. Elizabeth Racz is an epidemiologist and public health expert at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. She has been tracking the spread of the corona virus in the state. Dr. Racz says current projections, according to a Harvard study, show the coronavirus is likely to spread to between 40 and 70 percent of the population.

She says many people infected with the virus will present no symptoms and that can lead to unknowingly spreading the infection to others.

“What it really means is that, during the incubation period – which is the time between when a person is infected and when they first start showing symptoms – during that time, whether you’re going to be asymptomatic or not, you can spread the virus. Okay, so that’s a seven to 14 day window – five to 14 day window - in which people are spreading the virus and have that they’re doing it.”

Racz says of the 240,000 South Dakotans who could potentially become infected around 20 percent, or 1 in 5 could develop severe symptoms. She says different areas will see differing rates of infection dependent on individual factors.

Sanford Health Prepares

Health officials across the country are asking people to help control the spread of the coronavirus and prevent the nation’s healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. Dr. Dan Heinemann is the Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Sanford Health Network.

Heinemann says we can still make a difference affecting the severity of the outbreak in South Dakota.

“I think we’re still at a point where, if we behave properly – and by behaving properly, I talk about social isolation and distancing, continuing to wash our hands, watch where we go and only go when you absolutely have to – we still have an opportunity to change the trajectory, or the severity of this outbreak for our area.”

Heinemann says these efforts are meant to protect the state’s vulnerable population and healthcare workforce. He says Sanford is ramping up their testing capabilities to better track and understand the spread of COVID-19 but it is important to slow the spread of the virus as much as possible.