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National Coronavirus Task Force report considers state’s COVID-19 situation ‘deeply concerning’

South Dakota coronavirus
South Dakota coronavirus(MGN)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 3:05 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - A recent report from the White House COVID-19 task force calls the coronavirus situation in South Dakota “concerning,” suggesting the state should aggressively promote social distancing and masking.

The report was issued on Sept. 6. It is a weekly analysis that includes a state-by-state coronavirus situation assessment. This report is not released to the public, but a copy of the latest report was obtained by ABC News.

South Dakota had the second highest cases per-capita in the nation, according to the report. The state had 235 cases per 100,000 people over the previous week, compared to a national average of 88 per 100,000. The state also had the second-highest test-positivity rate over that period.

Three counties - Minnehaha, Pennington, and Clay - accounted for over 40% of cases during the past week. The report also noted “substantial” increases at both South Dakota State University in Brookings and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

The report laid out several recommendations, which include several familiar guidelines, but with stronger language.

“Continued increasing case counts and remarkably high test positivity in the context of insufficient testing levels are deeply concerning,” the task force recommendation said, and suggested, “aggressively promote social distancing and use of face coverings, particularly in indoor settings, statewide.”

In a briefing Thursday, Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon resisted the suggestion that South Dakota, under Gov. Kristi Noem’s leadership, has not done enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She said since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Health has strongly encouraged masking and social distancing policies.

South Dakota does not have any sort of mask mandate, which Noem has long resisted. Noem has frequently touted her office’s non-regulatory response to the pandemic. The governor has said her policy focuses on providing South Dakotans with the facts, then letting them make personal decisions - saying in a June 8 tweet that “more freedom, not more government” is the answer to COVID-19. She has used the state’s policy in a push to get people and businesses in states with COVID-19 restrictions to move to South Dakota, and recently spent $5 million in coronavirus relief funds to encourage tourists to visit the state.

Ian Fury, a spokesperson for Noem’s office, reinforced her message.

“Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Noem has provided South Dakotans with up-to-date science, facts, and data and trusted them to use that information to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” he said. “We will not be changing that approach.”

The statement also said Noem’s office remains focused on the state’s hospitalization rate. As of Thursday, 83 South Dakotans are hospitalized due COVID-19, and only 3% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

However, the White House Coronavirus Task Force report calls into question the state’s hospitalization rate with the following assessment:

Between Aug. 29 - Sept. 4, on average, 16 patients with confirmed COVID-19 and 10 patients with suspected COVID-19 were reported as newly admitted each day to hospitals in South Dakota. An average of 84% of hospitals reported either new confirmed or new suspected COVID patients each day during this period; therefore, this may be an underestimate of the actual total number of COVID-related hospitalizations. Underreporting may lead to a lower allocation of critical supplies.

Malsam-Rysdon said that this section of the report is a “generality,” and that health officials reach out to hospitals every day to track hospitalization cases.

“I’m very confident in the hospitalization data for South Dakota,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Read the full summary and report below.

Summary and recommendations for South Dakota in the White House Coronavirus Task Force report, obtained by ABC News
Summary and recommendations for South Dakota in the White House Coronavirus Task Force report, obtained by ABC News(White House COVID-19 Task Force/via ABC News)

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