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South Dakota hospitals strained as holiday gatherings loom

December 15, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s largest hospital systems on Wednesday warned they are strained and pushing off medical care as the state’s hospitals fill with the highest number of people infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of this year.

“We continue to have concerns that as our hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, we will not be able to provide prompt, quality care to our patients who are coming in with other medical needs,” said Dr. Mike Wilde, the head medical officer at Sanford Health.

Officials with Sanford, Avera Medical Group and the city of Sioux Falls spoke at a news conference Wednesday to urge people to get vaccinated and take precautions against spreading the virus during holiday gatherings. The state is seeing its worse surge of the virus since last winter, when hundreds of people died.

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“We’re just back up, climbing, climbing, climbing,” said Dr. David Basel, the vice president of clinical quality at Avera.

One in every 351 people in the state tested positive for the virus in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. Health officials reported eight new deaths Wednesday. While hospitals saw a small drop to 271 patients with COVID-19, the number of hospitalizations on Tuesday was the highest in nearly a year.

Basel described how his wife, who works as a physician in an intensive care unit, “has seen more death and suffering in this last year than she’s seen in the 20 years of her career prior to that.”

Avera is deferring medical procedures that are not urgent until the spring, Basel said. “We just don’t have the beds,” he added.

While Sanford has not canceled medical procedures, Wilde said the situation is changing day-to-day.

The officials urged people to get vaccinated, including booster shots, as well as wear masks in crowded, indoor places.

“Think about what we can do to save lives,” said Dr. Charles Chima, the public health director for Sioux Falls, “what can we do to stay safe this holiday.”