Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon listens during a news conference earlier this year at the State Capitol in Pierre, as Gov. Kristi Noem looks on at left.

COVID-19 cases among children aged 5-17 and young adults aged 18-22 are on the rise in South Dakota, state health officials reported during a Thursday news conference.

Based on data from July 19 to Sept. 5 analyzed by State Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton, the average number of cases for children in a given week has been increasing. The number of infections for children aged 5-17 rose from about 100 per week for the week of July 19 to 160 per week by Sept. 5. Officials added there are now typically about 600 cases among those aged 18-22.

Despite the higher infection rates, only three cases in the 5-17 age range and seven cases in the 18-22 range required hospitalization. Zero deaths have been reported for either age group.

All universities in the state have offered mass testing, while the Department of Health has multiple strategies in place to increase testing. The health department works closely with K-12 school districts when there is a positive case within a school and has provided testing opportunities to all schools. Sixty-one school districts are participating in centralized testing, and the health department encourages the remaining districts to consider participating as well.

Additionally, there has been a surge in contact tracing staff with the increase in new cases in K-12 schools. One hundred new contact tracers have joined the ranks recently, bringing the total number of contact tracers to 243 statewide, state Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.

The biggest obstacle confronting case investigations has been contacting individuals who have been tested. When contact tracers reach out to an individual, Malsam-Rysdon emphasized that individuals respond to the call to ensure people are appropriately informed about the actions they should take regarding the safety of themselves and others.

Malsam-Rysdon said people “shouldn’t be surprised” by the high rate of cases per capita in South Dakota.

“People need to continue to follow the guidelines to the greatest extent possible,” she said. “If you’re gonna see events over weekends like Labor Day, you’re gonna see more cases.”

“Any time a group of individuals come together, there will always be a risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Clayton said.

Because individuals encounter multiple sources of exposure throughout the day, Clayton said it is difficult to identify the exact source of the exposure.

“We’ve not seen larger clusters identified in the school setting; most of what we’re seeing is individual cases that are able to be contained through the efforts the school districts are taking,” Clayton said.

Malsam-Rysdon said the state health department, under Gov. Kristi Noem’s leadership, is working “continuously” to push social distancing messaging.

“We’re not doing this outside of her leadership and in recognition of what the CDC guidelines are,” Malsam-Rysdon said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ve been very clear with getting the CDC recommendations out to the public across the state. Our current campaign is exactly on this topic about the need to contain and social distance, so we are very much in line with that and that’s part of all the messaging that we make,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Malsam-Rysdon added the health department set a statewide testing goal of more than two times the minimum required testing for the state, which she said the health department has exceeded every month since July.

“This isn’t a situation where people can do it for other people. We’re encouraging people to get the facts, be mindful of what they can personally do, and stick to those recommendations. We’ve been at this for a long time, and it’s easy to move away from them...but we really need people to stick with this,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

“We welcome colleges and universities to take a look at the data that’s out there and the study that was done to continue the discussion around what we know, which is that when we do have a number of individuals that come into close contact,” Clayton said.

Despite the necessity to continue following mitigation guidelines, Malsam-Rysdon said the state’s infection rate is “not even close to numbers of major concern.” The number of hospitalizations remains very low — only 3% of hospital beds across the state are being used for COVID-19 patients, with 46% of those beds available for COVID.

As of the press conference Thursday, there were 11 new hospitalizations, four new deaths, and 237 fully recovered cases, and 2,256 new tests reported in the last 24 hours. Overall, the state health department reported 283 new COVID cases in the state from Thursday to Friday.

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