State Watch

South Dakota governor blames surge in COVID-19 cases on more testing


South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) this week attributed the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases to increased testing, saying, “That’s expected.”

“We have triple the amount of testing that we are doing in the state of South Dakota, which is why we’re seeing elevated positive cases,” Noem said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s normal, that’s natural, that’s expected.”

Data from the South Dakota Department of Health initially showed that as of Tuesday there were no open general-care hospital beds in the southeastern portion of the state, which includes the two largest hospitals.

The state agency later said, citing a data reporting error, that 23 percent of general-care hospital beds were available in medical facilities in the southeastern part of the state.

“As the dashboard went live at noon on Tuesday, we identified two issues which we worked quickly to resolve,” the agency said in a statement regarding the error.

Hospitals in Sioux Falls have about 41 percent of their intensive care units (ICU) available.

Noem did not explain how an increase in hospitalizations would correlate to an increase in testing, the AP reported.

A spokesperson for Noem told The Hill the state has “dramatically increased” testing capacity in recent months.

“For October, we are on pace to test around 300% of our monthly testing goal, which is what Governor Noem was referring to,” the spokesperson said.

The New York Times reported Wednesday North Dakota and South Dakota have the most massive outbreaks per capita in the country.

The percentage of tests coming back positive in South Dakota has averaged to nearly 24 percent in the last seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University, an indication that there is a growing community spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that a test positivity rate of 5 percent or lower is a sign COVID-19 is well-controlled in an area.

Noem’s message on testing leading to higher rates of positive cases echoes President Trump’s numerous statements about COVID-19 testing earlier this year, when he said in June, “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”

Noem’s spokesperson offered additional context regarding the state’s handling of the pandemic, saying that “South Dakota remains focused on hospital capacity, not positive tests, as our primary means of monitoring the spread of the virus.”

“As Governor Noem has always said, we can’t stop the virus from spreading,” the spokesperson added. “We can, however, ensure that we have the capacity to take care of those who get seriously ill, and we remain well within our capability to care for these individuals.”

The Department of Health reported the state has reported 291 deaths and 29,520 cases since the onset of the pandemic.

Case levels have been ramping up in recent months, with seven-day rates averaging 394 cases per 100,000 residents.

Updated on Oct. 15 at 6:41 p.m.

Tags COVID-19 pandemic in South Dakota COVID-19 testing Donald Trump Infectious diseases Kristi Noem South Dakota

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