Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

COVID immune landscape favorable; risks for long-term disease remain unpredictable

Dr. Shankar Kurra in SDPB's Rapid City Studio.
Dr. Shankar Kurra in SDPB's Rapid City Studio.

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

As the summer tourism season approaches, COVID-19 infection rates in the state are relatively low. Around 40 people are currently hospitalized, which accounts for less than 2% of statewide hospital capacity. Shankar Kurra, M.D., is vice president of medical affairs for Monument Health in Rapid City. He says the immune landscape in the state has changed drastically, even in the past few months.

“The best estimates today are that upwards to 90 percent of folks in this country have some form of immunity either from infection or from vaccination," Kurra says. "That is the good news for the United States. I think even if we had new variants, this is definitely helpful in reducing the more extreme outcomes of death and hospitalizations.”

But surviving COVID isn’t the only goal. Kurra says COVID infections can cause chronic disease and permanent damage to vital organs, even in people with no preexisting conditions.

“Anyone who is unvaccinated, even if they are in the prime of health and even if they are younger than 50 years of age, are at risk for long COVID and for any effects from COVID itself," Kurra says. "It’s unpredictable who will suffer long-term effects or even require hospitalization and make it. But just ‘making it’ alone does not free you from that risk.”

Kurra reminds people COVID is still a deadly disease. It’s important to consider individual risks and reduce those risks with vaccination. Kurra also cites research from the CDC that shows wearing a well-fitting N95 mask in indoor, crowded spaces can reduce infection rates by up to 85 percent.

More than 2,900 people have died from COVID in South Dakota.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.