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National Guard helps with testing as COVID surges in Black Hills communities

Members of the National Guard test a family for COVID-19 at Monument's Health new, second testing site in Rapid City.
Arielle Zionts
/
SDPB
Members of the National Guard test a family for COVID-19 at Monument's Health new, second testing site in Rapid City.

A second COVID-19 testing site has opened in Rapid City as the Black Hills region sees its highest testing demand and positivity rate — nearly 40% — since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, Monument Health's hospitalizations are expected to surpass the record of 103 patients from November 2021 as the Omicron variant infection is predicted to peak in two weeks.

"With the Omicron this month we are on track to see an 81% increase from December in testing volumes," said Emily Leech, director of laboratory services at Monument Health.

There are 60 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 across Monument Health's system, but "it's only a matter of time" until the record is broken, said Dr. Shankar Kurra, vice president of medical affairs.

More than 90% of those patients have not completed their single or double vaccine series.

Emily Leech is the Laboratory Director at Monument Health which serves the Black Hills area.
Arielle Zionts
/
SDPB
Emily Leech is the laboratory director at Monument Health, which serves the Black Hills area.

Monument Health is using six members of the National Guard to collect swabs at testing sites across the Black Hills as it expects to process 18,000 to 20,000 tests this months.

Leech said Monument Health is seeing a 38.2% positivity rate at its testing sites in Rapid City, Sturgis, Spearfish, Custer, Lead/Deadwood and Buffalo.

She said it's safest when positivity rates are under 5%, since that means there isn't community spread.

Monument Health labs are open 24/7, which allows patients to receive testing results in an average of less than 12 hours, Leech said.

The new drive-through testing site is located at the Monument Health Orthopedic and Specialty Hospital on Catron Boulevard and Mount Rushmore Road. It's open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The other drive-through testing site is at Monument Health's Urgent Care Clinic at 2116 Jackson Blvd.

The intensive care unit and other inpatient areas of the Rapid City hospital have been full with COVID and other patients since August, Kurra said.

That means surgeries that require hospital stays sometimes have to be rescheduled if beds aren't available.

Dr. Shankar Kurra is the Vice President Medical Affairs at Monument Health, which serves the Black Hills area.
Arielle Zionts
/
SDPB
Dr. Shankar Kurra is the vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health, which serves the Black Hills area.

Kurra has noticed an increase in the length of COVID-19 hospitalizations. The average is six to eight days but the sickest patient might need to stay for up to 45 days.

He said Monument Health expects but has not yet seen an increase in pediatric COVID hospitalizations.

However, a child from Pennington County was recently the first South Dakotan under the age of 20 to die from the virus.

Testing and vaccine appointments can be made by visiting www.monument.health or by texting the word “TEST” to 844-736-4798. People can also call the Nurse Triage Line at 605-755-1350. Nurses are available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. over the weekend.

People should not visit emergency rooms for testing.