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New CDC Guidelines ‘Hard’ To Follow In SD Where Testing Remains Low

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The Centers for Disease Control is updating its guidance on masks as COVID-19 cases increase.  

A health official says it’s tough to know how to respond in South Dakota. He says that’s because the state isn’t doing enough testing.  

The CDC's new mask guidance says even vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in areas with significant or high spread of the coronavirus.  

The CDC defines that as areas with a testing positivity rate of greater than 8 percent, or where there are 50 weekly cases per 100,000 residents.  

However, following that guidance may be difficult in South Dakota, which has some of the lowest testing rates in the country. Dr. Shankar Kurra is the vice-president of medical affairs with Monument Health in Rapid City. He says that means the state is undercounting cases.  

“It’s very hard, in a low testing environment, to have reliability in terms of which counties are at moderate to high spread and then therefore how would you apply this CDC guidance?” Kurra says. 

According to the John Hopkins University Testing Tracker, South Dakota performed 68 tests per 100,000 residents. Vermont, which has a similar population size, performed 268 tests per 100,000 residents. 

For months the CDC has said vaccinated people can go without masks indoors. The agency now points to data that show vaccinated people may be at slight risk of spreading the virus. The delta variant, circulating across the US, is more contagious than previous variants. It accounts for 80 percent of COVID cases in the US. 

Governor Kristi Noem criticized the move by the CDC. She says its inconsistency doesn’t help the American people.  

Kurra says it’s hard to be consistent in a fluid situation like a pandemic. 

“It’s like battle,” Kurra says. “You have to be flexible, agile, nimble, to change course, in order to avoid disaster. In this case we’re talking lives. We do not want to see another South Dakotan pay the price by being admitted to the critical care units of our hospitals. Or paying the long-term consequences of destroyed lungs or organs. Or worse still, dying.”  

Kurra says the country is seeing a fourth wave of the virus. New weekly data in South Dakota show two more deaths from COVID-19, raising the state’s total to 2,043. There are 239 new cases of coronavirus, and active cases are up 70 percent from last week, at 434. Kurra says vaccination levels must reach herd immunity to slow the spread of the virus. That’s anywhere from 70 to 80 percent.  

South Dakota vaccination rates among those 12 and older have stalled at 53 percent.   

Kurra says it’s a good idea for vaccinated South Dakotans to wear a mask in crowded indoor places.