Pierre Mask

Shown is a mask used to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 featuring the Pierre School District logo. Five students in the district now have the coronavirus.

COVID-19 infections among South Dakota’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities are still climbing, but the number of active cases is decreasing overall, state health officials reported during a Monday news conference. Meanwhile, Pierre School District officials on Monday reported on their website four new positive cases, bringing its total number of cases to five.

For the week of Sept. 6-12, there were 668 total cases reported for South Dakota K-12 schools, up from 452 total cases the week of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, according to data released Monday by the South Dakota Department of Health. Only 215 of those cases are active, however; 453 infected individuals have recovered. Of the 668 current cases in K-12 schools, 446 are students and 221 are staff. Seven hundred fifty-eight schools reported no active cases, compared with 700 last week.

“It amazes me that [our] numbers are significantly lower than most (knock on wood)… Hope our community can keep our numbers low,” Pierre School District Superintendent Dr. Kelly Glodt told the Capital Journal via email on Friday.

Colleges, universities and technical colleges in South Dakota showed similar trends; the department of health reported 1,053 total cases the week of Sept. 6-12, up from 842 total cases the week of Aug. 30 Sept. 5. Eight hundred sixty of the total cases have recovered. Of the 1,053 current cases among higher education, 1,004 are students and 49 are staff.

The state health department offers central testing for K-12 schools. Over the last two weeks, 121 tests were administered and all came back negative, Secretary of Health Kim Malsom-Rysdon said during a Monday news conference.

The health department has not changed social distancing recommendations for schools; Malsom-Rysdon said they continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“However, the (South Dakota Department of Education) has informed schools that the recommendations around quarantines are recommendations and the school board has the final decision making ability relative to whether they follow those guidelines or not,” Malsom-Rysdon said during Monday’s press conference.

Some school districts have developed templates for informing people if they have been in close contact with a positive case, but that has not taken the place of the health department’s contact tracing, Malsam-Rysdon said.

The state now has 278 contact tracers investigating positive cases, notifying those who have been in close contact with a positive case, and performing 10-day call backs to check on those released from isolation. The number of calls per day can vary, but tracers usually make four or more calls per hour, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton. It generally takes 10-20 minutes for a close contact notification call.

Contact tracers face the “very real challenge” of unanswered calls, Malsom-Rysdon said. She said it is important that individuals pick up the phone when called by a contact tracer, or at least return the call.

“When people help us with that, it helps us not waste time repeatedly calling people, and we will repeatedly call people until we get ahold of them. The success rate of calling people and having them pick up the first time is not where we’d like it to be; we’d like it to be much higher,” Malsom-Rysdon said.

The department of health reported on Monday 163 new COVID-19 cases in South Dakota, with six new hospitalizations, 125 recoveries, and 1,846 new tests administered. South Dakota now has 16,801 total cases, with 2,499 active cases and 14,118 recovered. Overall, 110 cases have required hospitalization and 184 people have died of COVID-19 statewide as of Monday.

“We will continue to aggressively promote the CDC guidance as it pertains to what people can do to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe from COVID and so those recommendations remain the same: good hand hygiene, staying away from individuals when you can at least six feet feet, minimizing indoor contact with people to the greatest extent possible. If you can’t do those things, then consider wearing a mask. Those things are going to continue to be really important especially as we look to flu season; there’s gonna be more opportunity for people to be getting sick from multiple different viruses,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Mask wearing is only a suggestion; Malsam-Rysdon said that there is not a “hard and fast rule” concerning face coverings, but that healthy individuals without breathing problems should wear a mask in situations where they cannot socially distance.

Clayton echoed Malsam-Rysdon’s words that the health department is continuing to campaign for “aggressive awareness” of COVID-19 risks.

“COVID can strike individuals wherever they’re at, within their communities, within their homes, at events,” Clayton said.

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