Hospital

The front view of Avera St. Mary's Hospital is seen with the use of a tilt-shift lens from East Sioux Avenue in the afternoon, April 17 in Pierre.

South Dakota health officials confirmed 98 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 9,371 infections, with the disease causing 144 deaths.

And if you ask Dr. Philip Meyer of Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, who has been practicing internal medicine for 26 years, Americans need to get used to masking up and social distancing.

In fact, Meyer doesn’t even like the term “social distancing” because he said it does not fully convey the need to maintain physical separation.

“I don’t believe we are going to be out of the woods with COVID-19 until the fall of next year, at the soonest, in my opinion,” Meyer told the Capital Journal during a Thursday interview.

“Social distance should be called physical distance. Maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet is more helpful than we thought,” Meyer added.

Speaking as a health professional, Meyer said he sees the “politicization” of COVID-19 as unfortunate.

“I have seen some grotesque overreaction and some grotesque underreaction,” Meyer said, though not citing any specific examples.

“This is real. It is definitely not the flu. There really is no sense in trying to draw comparisons between this and the flu,” Meyer added.

One major difference between COVID-19 and influenza, according to Meyer, is the average time in the hospital for someone who becomes severely ill from the disease. He said the average hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient is 15 days, compared to just two or three for the typical person who requires hospitalization for the flu.

Meyer also encourages people to wear masks in public, particularly during instances when maintaining a 6-foot physical distance is impractical.

“It is not about politics,” Meyer said. “What the masks do is they prevent each of us from spreading it to each other.”

At The Hospital

Earlier this year, South Dakota officials expressed concern about not having enough hospital beds in the event of a surge of COVID-19 cases. Mitigation efforts have reduced the possibility of this, but Meyer said Avera is ready for a large influx of COVID patients, should this occur.

“We are very prepared,” he said, noting the hospital normally houses 25-35 patients. Meyer said officials made “extensive preparations” to increase capacity so that as many as 150 patients can be hospitalized at the Pierre facility.

“Prepare for the worst and pray for the best,” he said of this philosophy.

While Meyer said the hospital stopped allowing patients to have visitors for some time, each patient is now permitted two visitors.

In terms of working to stop the spread of COVID-19 within the hospital, Meyer said staff members are required to cover not only their mouths and noses, but also their eyes. He also said everyone must enter through one of two entrances at the facility now, while those coming into the hospital must pass a temperature check.

When asked about the effectiveness of the somewhat controversial antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, against COVID-19.

“We don’t have enough evidence that it is helpful,” Meyer said. “It is still open for debate.”

Moving forward, Meyer said businesses, schools, governments, hospitals, and society in general have to get used to physical distancing until the virus dissipates.

“Learning how to live with this threat is what people need to do,” he added.

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