Governor Kristi Noem has criticized the accuracy of statistical modeling used to make predictions about the pandemic, but one of her own projections from nine months ago has proven sadly accurate.
That projection is the death toll. In April, Noem released numbers indicating the state would eventually suffer a minimum of 1,325 deaths. The state recently surpassed that total and has now suffered 1,519 deaths among people infected with COVID-19.
Noem did not actually announce the death-toll projection during the April press conference. She refused to divulge it, and instead told reporters to do the math themselves using other numbers she released.
Those numbers included estimates of total infections.
“When we’re looking at our data and our numbers and the amount of people that will get infected,” Noem said at the time, “we anticipate it will be 265,000 people to 600,000 people in the state of South Dakota.”
When a reporter asked about the potential death toll, Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon gave a partial answer.
"We’ve talked in the past about various percentages of deaths associated with COVID-19, and that range is from .5 to 3 percent of positive cases,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
Then Noem interjected, “And we’re not going to give you a specific number. I guess there’s no way for us to know that. We don’t know what could change in the next day, the next week, the next month."
Later, another reporter asked about deaths, saying, “Is the state tracking it? Does the state have projections on this?”
Again, Noem deflected.
“All you have to do is use the formula that Kim just gave you in the previous answer,” Noem said.
The result of multiplying the low-end projection of 265,000 positive cases by the low-end projection of a 0.5-percent death rate was a minimum projection of 1,325 deaths.
Some other predictions from early in the pandemic have proven less accurate. Noem talked about that in November on SDPB’s In the Moment.
“We’re in a much better spot than what we thought we would be at this point in time,” Noem said. “At this point in time, Dr. Fauci had told me I'd have 10,000 people in the hospital.”
Indeed, the state has had far fewer hospitalizations than early modeling predicted. The actual peak was about 600 people in hospitals one day in early November.
Since the state’s first COVID-19 case was detected in March, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed and probable cases in the state. It’s unknown how many additional infections have gone undetected.
-Contact reporter Seth Tupper by email.