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COVID-19 cases surge in South Dakota with 334 reported

September 3, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota has recorded the nation’s third-highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita over the last two weeks, an alarming development health officials attributed to summer gatherings, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and students returning to college campuses and school classrooms.

Health officials reported 334 confirmed new cases on Thursday and said they have seen a surge of cases among younger people. There were about 390 new cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota over the past two weeks, the third-highest rate in the nation, according to data from Johns Hopkins researchers.

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The state has reported 552 cases linked to its public universities and technical colleges, and another 195 cases among students and staff in public schools. At least 118 South Dakota residents who attended the Sturgis Motorcyle Rally in August have also tested positive for COVID-19. More than 300 people in 12 states have reported infections after attending the rally.

Officials from the South Dakota Department of Health said they are watching for an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. But those have not surged and health officials said younger people are at less risk to complications from COVID-19. There were no new deaths reported Thursday, and the number of hospitalizations is currently at 76, with 44% of hospital beds in the state available.

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton said there is typically a two-week lag between increases in cases and hospitalizations.

But as cases surge, health officials said they are sticking to the same recommendations to prevent infections — washing hands, wearing a mask and keeping six feet (1.8 meters) away from other people.

“Washing your hands is still the number one thing we can be doing,” said Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon.

That recommendation echoes guidance from Gov. Kristi Noem, who has discouraged schools from requiring masks and says hand washing is the best way to prevent infections.

Health officials said they attribute the surge in cases to people in younger age groups gathering together, especially during the final days of summer. The state now has 241 contact tracers working to track people who may have been exposed to infection from those who test positive.

Malsam-Rysdon said the state is also preparing to distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it is approved. She said the state has not heard how many doses of the vaccine it will receive, but people who are vulnerable to the disease will be prioritized.