As COVID-19 cases have hit record numbers in South Dakota and Sioux Falls, local hospitals are feeling the strain as demand for testing increases.
Data released by the South Dakota Department of Health on Thursday morning showed there were 24,796 active infections in the state, making it the third day straight for a record breaking amount of active infections. Wednesday, the state reported 22,743 active cases. The previous high was 20,475 Tuesday and 19,240, which was reported by the department on Nov. 18, 2020.
Cases in Sioux Falls have also skyrocketed. The city's dashboard showed 9,107 cases in the Sioux Falls area as of Wednesday. On Jan. 2, cases in the city were under 3,000.
At the Minnehaha County Jail, where as recently as Jan. 6 only one inmate was COVID-19 positive, 14 of the jail's 485 inmates were positive as of Tuesday morning, as well as 11 of the 167 staff members.
The jail's quarantine procedures — no one moved into or out of a certain block of the jail — currently apply to five blocks and 150 inmates.
"We're definitely impacted by it," Warden Mike Mattson said.
Positive COVID-19 tests seeing a sharp increase
David Basel, Avera Health's vice president of clinical quality, said there had been "an incredible ramp up in cases" over the past week and a half, caused by the significantly increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
Through November, Basel said, an average day at Avera's central lab, where tests from multiple locations across the system's footprint are processed, would find anywhere between 150 and 200 positives.
Over the last week, that number has risen to between 900 and 1,000 positives.
Basel said the turnaround time on tests remains at about 24 hours, with some taking up to 48 hours, which he attributed to a continuing effort to build their capacity.
Rochelle Odenbrett, Sanford Laboratories' system executive director, said that Sioux Falls' drive-thru testing site was averaging between 500-700 tests a day, with 1,500-2,000 being processed at Sanford Laboratories.
Odenbrett said the volume of testing had also increased during the last week, and said a 48-hour turnaround time was anticipated once they had received the test. Odenbrett said the increased time was also partially because of supply issues ranging from FedEx staffing challenges to weather in Memphis that grounded flights.
Basel said meeting that increased demand for testing can mean longer lines to be tested. More concerning, Basel said, were supply issues the increase was bringing.
There's several ways to test for COVID-19, Basel said, including a test that looks only for evidence of COVID-19, and another method that co-tests for influenza as well.
That second kind of test is in short supply, he said, leading to mitigation strategies for usage, such as only using them for patients who are more likely to suffer complications from influenza.
Influenza cases are also rising, but "not in the same ballpark" as COVID-19, Basel said, Still, flu cases are increasing in a way that wasn't seen last year.
Sioux Falls-area hospitalizations stable, for now
Basel said Avera hadn't seen "huge changes to our hospitalizations," but noted hospitalizations often lag overall case changes by a few weeks.
Still, Basel said Avera is "already running at near capacity," and described Avera hospitals as "a one in, one out type of situation."
Hospitalization numbers can be deceiving, he noted. While a bed may be available at Avera Behavioral Health, it's likely not hooked up to the oxygen that a COVID-19 patient would require.
Both systems said elective surgeries were still ongoing but carefully considered, with Sanford Sioux Falls' vice president of operations Andy Munce saying that capacity was monitored on a daily basis.
"At this point, we are not delaying or rescheduling procedure patients," Munce said. "But we may need to in the near future."
Like many other businesses, Basel said Avera was dealing with more and more employees out because of COVID-19, which only adds to the difficulties faced by staff.
Munce agreed, saying after two years of high volumes of patients, "our teams are stressed and tired."
"As a community, we need to support them through following the advice of our medical experts and getting vaccinated," Munce said. "Getting vaccinated is the number one thing the public can do to support our health care workers."
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Omicron strains Sioux Falls hospital capacity, COVID testing