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Statewide COVID-19 Testing Exceeds Federal Guidelines. Some Worry It's Still Not Enough.

Seth Tupper/SDPB

Some local healthcare experts say South Dakota isn’t testing enough people for COVID-19. But the state Department of Health does not have plans to increase its official monthly testing goal. 

Dr. Shankar Kurra is Vice President of Medical Affairs at Monument Health. He says healthcare systems use models to anticipate the level of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the coming months, which can help them anticipate staffing needs and other concerns.  

“If we have the right amount of testing, the numbers tend to be more accurate,” he says. 

But Dr. Kurra says the ideal amount of data is logistically difficult to collect.  

“The minimum is five percent, especially when having these rising numbers. The best-case scenario you test at least five percent daily, five percent of the population.” 

The South Dakota Department of Health’s testing goal is five percent of the state’s population per month.  

“It’s not sufficient. We need to up that,” says Elizabeth Racz, an epidemiologist and public health expert at South Dakota Mines.  

Although the state has often exceeded that five percent monthly goal—and this month is closer to ten percent—Racz says it’s still not enough to effectively monitor COVID-19’s spread.  

“And what can really help people understand what’s going on is just to make those numbers smaller," she explains. "Say, ‘Wow, if I was in a room of 40 people, and we only tested four people to figure out what’s going on with everyone’s health, maybe that’s not the best thing.’” 

But Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the state’s current goal already exceeds federal guidelines.  

“The five percent goal comes from the federal plan that we submitted several months ago and represented over two and a half times what that federal guideline was relative to testing the population.” 

Malsam-Rysdon says the state is working to increase access to COVID-19 testing for people with symptoms. It’s also conducting regular testing in high risk areas, like long-term care facilities.  

As for models of what the coming months might look like, Monument Health’s Dr. Kurra says a model is only as good as its data.