Doctors hope virus downtick holds as deadliest month ends

November 30, 2020 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Doctors from South Dakota’s largest hospital systems said Monday they hope that a recent downtick in virus cases holds steady after the Thanksgiving holiday as the state concluded its deadliest month of the pandemic to date.

Health officials reported three deaths from COVID-19, bringing November’s total of deaths reported to 521. That’s more than all other months of the pandemic combined. The total death toll from the virus is currently at 946.

During November, South Dakota had the nation’s highest rate of COVID-19 deaths per capita, with Johns Hopkins researchers tracking 59 per 100,000 people. The state has the nation’s ninth-highest rate of virus deaths over the course of the entire pandemic. Most of the people killed by the virus were over the age of 79.

The state has seen its average number of new cases reported over the last week decline to 976 a day. But it still had the nation’s third-highest number of new cases per capita over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. One in every 129 people tested positive in the past week.

“For the first time in about three months, we’ve seen kind of a leveling off of cases and hospitalizations,” Dr. David Basel, vice president for clinical quality with Avera Medical Group, said at a news conference. “But they’re leveling off at a very high level still.”

Basel said the hospital system’s ICU wards are running at or above capacity and administrators are looking to convert more space to take care of patients needing ICU care. There are currently 546 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide.

The Department of Health reported one of the lowest numbers of new cases and tests completed in recent weeks, a slowdown likely caused by the Thanksgiving holiday. Health officials reported 564 people tested positive.

Basel urged people to take precautions against spreading infections in the next “weeks to months” before vaccines become available to the general public.

Faced with some of the nation’s worst rates of coronavirus cases, cities across the state have moved to pass mask requirements. But Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has opposed mask mandates or other government interventions aimed at preventing infections.

The Rapid City Council will consider a mask mandate in a special session on Monday. Students in the city’s school district are also returning to in-person instruction after several weeks of distance learning due to infections among staff members.

District spokeswoman Katy Urban says school officials have continued to monitor coronavirus case numbers throughout the Thanksgiving break and since they’ve stabilized, the COIVD-19 team feels a return to in-person instruction is appropriate.