A woman tested by Sanford Vermillion earlier this week has been found to have COVID-19, according to Tim Tracy, CEO of Sanford Vermillion Hospital.
Tracy, along with over a dozen officials from the City of Vermillion, Clay County, the Vermillion School District, the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company and the University of South Dakota, informed the Plain Talk of the positive test early Saturday afternoon via a Zoom video conference call.
“We have done probably right around 20 tests at Sanford Vermillion and all but a couple of those have been returned. We had one return positive,” Tracy said. “Now the governor updated the state website today (Saturday) and they don’t indicate that Clay County has a case and the explanation could be one of two: one is that it didn’t get there yet, but the more likely is that they attributed it to the place where the permanent residence is normally.”
Yankton County has recorded its first positive COVID-19 test, according to the state website. In its daily update Saturday, the state reported that the number of positive cases in South Dakota has risen to 68, up 10 from Friday. Also, two cases were reported in Hutchinson County. Neither Yankton County nor Hutchinson County were classified as community-spread counties, according to the website.
As Tracy noted, on Saturday the state website didn’t list Clay County as a place where COVID-19 has been recorded.
“In this case, the permanent residence of this patient is not Clay County. In likelihood, it very well may not get reported. That does not mean – and I’m not saying that they don’t have a residence here in Clay County – but their permanent residence is not here, so it will get reported out, more than likely, in the county of their residence,” Tracy said.
The person who tested positive is a female between the ages of 20 and 30. Tracy said she is sheltering at home in self-quarantine.
“Sanford tested them curbside in Vermillion so they didn’t enter our physical structure, which we’re very thankful for. It is a mild case, it appears and someone who can shelter at home,” he said. “The Department of Health, I believe, does all of the follow-up in terms of community exposure to see who they’ve been in contact with and when and if they’ve traveled.”
Tracy said the Clay County COVID-19 case appears to be travel-related.
“It’s not one of community spread. That’s good news. We’ve been asked several times what Sanford Vermillion is doing and we’ve been a little ahead of the game down here in terms of our response because we have an extraordinary group of long-term, post-acute care people in our building in the nursing home and Dakota Gardens,” he said. “We’ve taken the approach since day one – I think it’s been well over two weeks now – of a full visitor restriction and taking temperatures of everyone who enters our building that goes beyond the front desk and turning away anybody that doesn’t need to be here.”
No visitors have been allowed in the Sanford Vermillion facilities for over two weeks now, Tracy said. Staff members are screened and have their temperatures taken before they enter the building.
He applauds the local health care provider’s staff for the way they are handling local COVID-19 testing.
“Full, personal protective equipment was used as designed in keeping with the process so there was no risk of exposure to our employees because of that,” Tracy said. “I’m very happy with Sanford Health in the turnaround time in this testing. With this case, it was less than 24 hours.
“We are going to continue to do curbside testing; we are going to do it only for those people who meet screening protocols, meaning they would have a fever or a cough or shortness of breath,” he said. “We’d love to test 100 percent of everybody, but that’s not feasible. We have to utilize the resources we have really wisely and so we’re only testing those at this point that the screening questions would tell us to do. We’ve had a few people say that they’ve wanted to be tested and have been turned down and that is true because they didn’t meet the screening criteria.”
Sanford Vermillion is the only place in Clay County where one can go to be tested for COVID-19. Community members who suspect they may be ill with the virus should call Sanford Vermillion Medical Center at 605-677-3700 instead of visiting the clinic.
Tracy describes how the curbside method of collecting samples works.
“What we like everyone to do is to call and what we do is set them a specific time that they can drive up, we tell them where, they give us the make and model of their car and then we go outside to the car and do testing at the car. That’s at a site up here at the hospital that we haven’t disclosed to anyone so we don’t get a bunch of people circling the wagons, trying to figure out where to go get tested,” he said. “We really want people to call ahead of time because I don’t want to take up staff time screening out in a car and I also don’t want people to just show up, causing confusion waiting for their tests.”
Sanford Vermillion is working to inform the public that those who want to be tested must call first.
“Unless they are ill enough to have to go to the emergency room, a COVID test can wait. We try and schedule those so, first of all, we don’t have staff standing around for 24 hours waiting for someone to come through as we’d rather have a specific time for them to come,” he said. “Initially, when it (coronavirus) was reported out, we did six or seven in a couple days and it’s been one or two a day here and there ever since. I think Friday, we were back at three.”
Tracy expects the COVID-19 testing at Sanford Vermillion to increase after the public learns of the recent positive lab result.
“We have plenty of testing kits here in terms of being able to collect the samples and that’s all we do locally. After the sample is collected, it’s sent to Sanford in Sioux Falls and they prioritize them just like the state lab does,” he said. “They are prioritized in a way that says ‘are they an impatient in your hospital?’ ‘Are they someone in a vulnerable group, say a nursing home resident or someone that is an oncology patient, on chemotherapy or are they a health care worker?’
“They are prioritizing the testing to make sure that they get those done first. The standard at this moment in time is to get test results 24 to 48 hours after the test is sent,” Tracy said. “But, we’ve all seen that at one time, the state lab ran out of media and we’ve seen delays in testing from some of the other large labs around the country. While Sanford today can still turnaround a test in 24 to 48 hours, there is still a limited capacity there, too, should there be a huge surge.”
He noted that Sanford Vermillion hasn’t received the test results from three samples that it has collected.
“They went to a laboratory outside the state of South Dakota. Everything that’s been done in the state of South Dakota has been responded to appropriately,” Tracy said. “We had a five-day period of time where there wasn’t testing available in the state and they accessed an out-of-state lab and that lab has been exceedingly slow.”
Currently, the Sanford laboratory in Sioux Falls has a 24 to 48 hour turnaround time from the time they receive a sample to determining if the test is positive for COVID-19.
“Sanford Vermillion has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for all of our staff. We believe that we have enough to sustain a surge and the question is really going to come down to what does the surge look like if there is one,” Tracy said. “You need a crystal ball to see if that’s going to happen and that’s something I don’t have.”
“We’ve been working very hard at ‘flattening the curve’ as the governor has asked us to do,” said Kevin O’Kelly, assistant vice president for research compliance at the University of South Dakota when describing the university’s response to the pandemic. “We’ve gone to all online testing and we’ve sent the students home. We’re trying to empty the residence halls and at work, we’re encouraging working from home. Virtually everyone is working from home now. Obviously, the increased social distancing should flatten the curve.
“Our only weapon in attacking COVID-19 is prevention. We have been focusing on prevention for the past three-and-half weeks or so,” he said. “Nonetheless, we’ve known that it is coming to Vermillion sooner or later. Flat curve or no, it’s going to be here and we’ve been working with Sanford and the community and the city together to prepare contingency plans for if the curve is not as flat as we desire.”
USD, he said, has begun reviewing what it may be able to provide to Sanford Vermillion, such as personal protective equipment, should it be needed in the community.
“We have a relatively good-sized inventory of that material. Of course, we have a medical school and research wings that use the same PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),” O’Kelly said. “Also, we’re thinking about providing some support to the health care professionals. Perhaps we might be able to provide housing to people who are working 17 hours a day and don’t want to go home or who don’t want to go home to potentially infect their families.
The dorms on the USD campus are currently empty.
“That’s a resource we have so we’ll be looking into that next week along with the Sanford professional staff. We’re also looking into the possibility of a super-surge hospital-like facility which would be the worst case if Sanford becomes deluged with hospitalization cases,” he said. “We don’t have the staff to care for patients that are hospitalized, but we have space and we have equipment.
“We are the most resource-rich place in Vermillion, so we’re trying to find out what Sanford and the community might need, and then we’re going to try to collect it all in one place and know where it is,” O’Kelly said, “working with the county Office of Emergency Services, Sanford and the City of Vermillion.”
Personnel from local government and community entities, Sanford Vermillion and USD “have all been meeting now for three weeks,” he said. “We all know each other and we share a common purpose.
“We don’t know when the surge is going to hit because we really don’t have a lot of good data, yet. We’ll get more data and we’ll know more about what that curve is going to look like in the next three weeks or so,” O’Kelly said. “The university is making plans six weeks ahead, so right now, we’re making plans for about the middle of May and that’s right where the governor is making plans, too.”
The university is currently planning on canceling summer events on the campus.
“Many of the organizations that sponsor summer events have unilaterally canceled or postponed those events. During the summer, USD is a busy place and some of those events, such as the Summer Special Olympics, are being canceled by the sponsors themselves,” he said.
Tracy noted that Gov. Noem likely has been following information provided by the U.S. Surgeon General, who is estimating that the coronavirus peak will likely be experienced in about six to eight weeks.
“I know that there is some optimism out there that it could happen sooner, but I think from a health-care provider and government perspective, you want to be optimistic but probably not be overly optimistic,” he said.
The state reported Saturday that it had no more backlog tests at the state lab. The backlog had stood at more than 200 on Thursday. This does not include cases that are being tested by commercial labs.
The case in Union County, first reported Friday, was listed as minimal community spread.
To date, the state lab has run a total of 2,592 tests. The state also reported Saturday that 26 cases are considered recovered, up from 21 on Friday.
“We’ve been very diligent in looking at how we’re prepared and how we’re responding to any kind of positive (tests) that we might get, and following the CDC’s guidelines and Sanford guidelines and Sanford Vermillion’s emergency plan and the university’s and the community’s emergency plans,” Tracy said. “We’ve been very diligent about staying up to date, making sure that we’re staying ahead of this as far as our vision will let us.”
The best precaution he could offer Saturday is for people to maintain social distancing – to keep a physical distance from others of at least six feet.
Tracy admits the advice to not shake hands with others is tough.
“It’s hard for me not to shake hands; I’ll tell you, it’s been a real challenge for me,” he said. “Also, everyone should wash their hands; soap and water is the most effective and do it for 20 seconds.”
According to The Associated Press, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.