During a media briefing Friday afternoon, Gov. Kristi Noem said the latest analysis of data by state healthcare officials projects that South Dakota will experience its peak number of coronavirus cases in mid-June.
“But when we’re looking at our data and our numbers and the number of people who could get infected, we anticipate it will be 265,000 people to 600,000 people in the state of South Dakota,” she said of the state’s total population of 882,235 people. “What this means … is we will need at our peak infection date, sometime in the middle of June, about 5,000 hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19. We will also need 1,300 ventilators to take care of the people in our state who will need them.”
Those numbers represent 30 to 70 percent of the state’s population. They are also based on South Dakotans doing what they are today with social distancing and other mitigation factors that are taking place, such as the closing of certain businesses by Vermillion and other city governments.
The governor said 5 percent of South Dakotans who become infected will need to be hospitalized “which is a number that many of the other models are using. We believe that 26 percent of those who are hospitalized, which is a common formula that’s put into place, will need a ventilator.”
South Dakota’s healthcare systems, she said, are planning to have the capacity to accept 5,000 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals by that peak date. “We need to have 1,300 ventilators to take care of individuals who may need them at that date,” she said.
Noem was asked by a reporter later in the briefing if South Dakota has the extra hospital beds and ventilators needed for the projected COVID-19 patients.
“We do not, but we have a plan to get there, and we will get there by the time we reach our peak infection date in June,” she said.
“We have the surge capacity identified right now with our hospitals doing that planning at about 4,400 beds. That will require additional staffing and equipment, so we’re working on those details and working to be able to help address those needs,” said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the Department of Health, in response to a reporter’s question. “We are also in the process of identifying additional alternative care sites that could be used to help once we get to that peak need.
“The number of ventilators in our state is currently at 525,” she said. “That includes both ventilators and related equipment that currently is available in hospital settings as well as what we have available in our state cache. We have requests in to FEMA as well as private suppliers to help bridge the gap of ventilators needs.”
Hospitals also must be prepared to take care of COVID-19 patients after the peak infection date has passed, she said, adding that she was sharing these numbers on Friday so that South Dakotans “can join with us in getting behind this plan and making sure that we have the best chance at success in protecting as many people as possible in our state as we go forward.”
The projections, Noem said, “shouldn’t be too scary for us because we recognize those other folks that we’re encompassing will contract the virus but they will have no symptoms. They are very mild symptoms where it won’t occur to them that they have COVID-19.”
“Our South Dakota population is 882,235 people,” she said. “At our peak infection rate, which will be mid-June to the end of June, we will have current containment and social distancing measures in place. That means doing what we’re doing today.”
In late March, Noem stated that South Dakota would experience a peak of infections in approximately eight weeks.
“Today, we’re looking at very different picture,” Noem said, after referring to steps she and her administration have taken in recent weeks, including declaring a state of emergency on March 13. “We are in a very fluid situation. We are dealing with a virus which is unpredictable and we’re still learning more about each and every day.”
The statistics Noem shared Friday show that “we have cut the number of people at our peak infection rate who will be sick at one time almost in half,” she said, “which is fantastic. By looking at these charts, you will notice that we have pushed our peak infection date out. We still have a long road in front of us.”
The governor said South Dakotans will need to practice its current mitigation efforts through August.
She also described the state’s current projections as dynamic and not static.
“They will change as the virus spreads and they will change based on developments in medicine, therapeutics or other factors that maybe today we don’t even anticipate,” Noem said. “The data has been helping us to prepare for our peak time and our peak time will be when we have the most people in our state infected with the virus at one time.
“It is helping our healthcare systems to prepare to take care of individuals so that people have the best chance to get over this virus as possible,” she said.
The state and individuals from South Dakota’s major health providers – Monument Health, Avera and Sanford Health – all agree on the data, the governor said.
Joining Noem at Friday’s briefing were Malsam-Rysdon, Josh Clayton, South Dakota state epidemiologist, Dr. Brad Archer, chief medical officer - Monument Health, Dr. David Basel, pediatrics and internal medicine – Avera, and Dr. Allison Suttle, Chief Medical Officer – Sanford Health.
“We at Monument Health endorse this model and we appreciate the opportunity to have our predictive analytics team engage with each of you as we came to this conclusion,” Archer said.
Avera also fully supports the projections that the governor had just shared, Basel said.
“The thing that really reached me during this process … is the difference that each and every individual in this state is going to have,” he said. “We do not have a vaccine for this virus. We do not have an anti-viral treatment for this virus. What we have to fight this virus is each and every resident.
“The difference between each resident infecting two other people versus two-and-a-half other people is the difference between the healthcare systems being able to handle this load or being overwhelmed by this load, so the power really is in the people’s hands,” Basel said. He told people to stay home and practice social distancing.
“That will determine whether we win or lose this fight,” he said.
“It has been wonderful to see all of the systems come together with the state and come up with one story that we can tell South Dakota,” said Suttle, “and that we can now, shoulder to shoulder, prepare and get our arms around so that we can take care of every single resident and every single patient who comes through our doors.”
She also thanked South Dakotans who have heeded pleas in recent weeks to social distance to stop the virus from spreading.
“Thank you on behalf of every single physician and nurse that works at Sanford for staying at home and doing your part,” Suttle said. “We are getting ready every day with supplies, with upskilling nurses that work in the clinics so that they can begin to work in the hospitals, developing a rapid lab test with a 90-minute turnaround time so that we can be more and more ready as these cases increase.
“The modeling really helps us, as Dr. Archer said,” she said. “It helps us plan how many of the different things we are going to need, when we are going to need these things, so we can be completely prepared. It is just a model and it will change and it depends on all of our behaviors and the virus itself and the biology of the virus which we have to respect.”
Now, more than ever, she said, is a time for South Dakotans to double-down on staying at home, she added.
“The case numbers are rising so that staying at home is even more critical,” Suttle said, adding that people must plan so that they, for example, visit grocery stores only once every week to 10 days.
“The more times you go out of your house, the more times there are for exposure or for transmitting the virus,” she said. “I think another thing is having guests in your home. I would love to have my parents over – they live in Sioux Falls, the same town as I do, but we’re not doing that. We’re really staying apart from each other.”
People who decide to enjoy the pleasant spring days with time outdoors should not walk in groups, Suttle said.
“Standing next to each other as you’re walking for that half an hour – that’s in close contact or close proximity,” she said. “Really concentrate on that physical distancing, staying apart from one another and that’s going to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“It will get worse before it gets better, but everyone has a part to play,” Suttle said. “Please stay home and stay safe, and that will allow for our healthcare providers to do their job. It is a really challenging time. We will all be tested. I’ve been inspired by staff members in our facilities who have raised their hands and said ‘what can I do?’ … Now more than ever, the biggest way you can help our health systems is to stay at home and stay physically apart.”