137.3 36.6

The top number represents South Dakota’s COVID-19 infection rate per 100,000 people for the last week. The bottom number is that statistic for the nation during the same time period.

That means that for the past seven days, South Dakota’s COVID infection rate is 3.75 times worse than the U.S. rate, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amid the South Dakota COVID-19 surge, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams visited Pierre on Tuesday to tour the testing facility at the National Guard Armory — and to implore residents to get tested and use other mitigation measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The new surge testing site, located at 3440 E. Hwy. 34, will be operational until Wednesday at 5 p.m. Testing is free and is conducted by a nasal self-swab. Results will be available within 3-5 days of the test date. At the Pierre location, wait times are short and people have been able to get through the whole process in 20 minutes or less.

To get tested, make an appointment at https://covid.sd.gov/testing.aspx. After registering, you will receive an appointment time and a test voucher that should be printed and brought to the testing site. Without an appointment, you can only be tested if time slots are not full. Other testing locations can also be found at the site.

“Testing is critical in our fight against COVID-19. Not everyone develops symptoms. It’s important to know that, when we look at studies, anywhere from 30 to 50% of people who are spreading COVID-19 are doing it without having a fever, without having a runny nose, without being what we call symptomatic,” Adams said. “You could feel fine right now, but you can still be spreading COVID-19. So if you or your loved ones come into contact with someone who may have had COVID-19, or even if you’re just curious, we encourage you to come out and get tested.”

The types of tests being offered at testing sites statewide are easy to use — Adams described it as a “comfortable process” that even children can do themselves.

“Unfortunately, we know right now that cases are going up across the nation. They’re rising particularly quickly in South Dakota,” Adams said.

On Monday, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced its vaccine candidate is 90% effective.

“That’s important because I know people are fatigued. I know that it seems like it’s been going on forever, and I know it seems like there’s no end. But the fact is the finish line is in sight,” Adams said.

Adams said the federal government intends to begin vaccination before the end of 2020, starting with first responders and vulnerable populations. The intent is to begin injecting the general population with a vaccine in the springtime.

State Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon on Tuesday said “we can’t let our guard down” regarding slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to see people doing these things. The vaccine can’t come soon enough, and we will distribute it as soon as it is available. The surgeon general was very clear that it’ll be safe and effective,” Malsam-Rysdon said at the weekly COVID press conference.

Adams encouraged people to continue to utilize mitigation efforts until the vaccine can be widely administered.

“You don’t have a mask mandate here. But what I would say to the people of South Dakota is, you really shouldn’t need a mandate to do the right thing for your community, for your family, for your friends,” he said. “There’s been a lot of politics around wearing a mask. As many of you know, even I have changed my position on masks, but that’s because the science has changed. Unlike other respiratory viruses, we now know that up to 50% of people can spread this virus without ever having symptoms. And one of the most effective tools we have to prevent asymptomatic viruses is encouraging everyone to wear a face mask” as well as maintaining 6 feet of distance from others and avoiding crowds.

New cases in South Dakota again surpassed 1,000 on Wednesday, with 1,202 new confirmed cases and 160 new probable cases reported on the state health department’s website. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 55,705 and the total number of probable cases to 2,991 — 17,461 of which are active infections. There are 40,668 recovered cases in the state, 543 people are currently hospitalized, and 567 people have died of COVID.

Adams is not in support of a mask mandate, but said people should wear a mask because they care about other people, not because they are told they should.

“But at the end of the day, you shouldn’t have to mandate people to do the right thing, and we have left it to the governors, in a nation that is a federation of states, to determine how best to activate their citizenry. What I would say to governors is, think about your citizenry and do all you can to get people to follow these public health measures,” Adams said.

One of the reasons the virus is continuing to spread so quickly is because people’s social bubbles are increasing again. When people hang out with friends, neighbors and extended family, community spread increases, which leads to a “critical moment” where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths start to rise, Adams said.

“One of the great things about South Dakota is that people here really do believe in community, they really do support one another, they really do look out for one another. Mandate or no mandate, I believe people will do the right thing for their neighbors or their friends or their family if they understand how it actually helps their friends and family,” Adams said.

“I want you to understand, from the surgeon general of the United States, science tells us wearing a mask and washing your hands and watching your distance really does slow the spread of diseases and keeps people safe and alive until we get a vaccine.”

Adams also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated for the flu virus as soon as possible. With an anticipated surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations as the weather gets colder and more people are forced inside, getting a flu vaccine can help prevent further strain on the health care system in the form of flu hospitalizations. When more people get a flu shot, more healthcare resources can continue to be used to fight COVID.

“This virus is very unforgiving, incredibly contagious, and people are moving inside now that the weather is getting colder which is in favor of this virus. So we have to be even more cautious, we need to be even more careful. We need more people to do the right things, and we need to stay the course and understand this is not forever,” Adams said.

Additionally, flu symptoms can be the same as COVID symptoms, so cases of the flu being mistaken for COVID can cause businesses to shut down as people are unnecessarily quarantined.

“We can help stay open by getting a flu shot,” Adams said.

Malsam-Rysdon said at the DOH’s weekly press conference that so far, 64,000 fewer South Dakotans have gotten a flu vaccine as compared to last year. Every age group except the 45-64 age range is lagging behind in flu vaccinations. Malsam-Rysdon said it is a safe, effective, low-cost vaccine that is readily available statewide.

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