Kim Malsam-Rysdon

South Dakota Department of Health

South Dakota health officials are preparing to distribute vaccinations for COVID-19 as early as next month.

It’s unclear if any current trials will have a vaccine available by then, but federal authorities are telling states to get ready. 

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the vaccine will go out in three phases.

South Dakota Department of Health

North Dakota is asking people to conduct their own contact tracing as the state’s Department of Health is overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases.

Here in South Dakota, some doctors are giving similar directions as the Department of Health works to track down close contacts.

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. 

South Dakota Department of Health

South Dakota is seeing its highest COVID-19 hospitalization numbers so far. While state health officials insist there’s plenty of capacity statewide, some patients are being diverted hours away from home—and even out of state.

John Bjorkman lives in De Smet. He tested positive for COVID-19 last week and ended up in the hospital on Sunday. There, he took a turn for the worse.

“[I was] really working hard for every breath I could get," he says. "So on Tuesday morning, the nurse practitioner called Sioux Falls and visited with them, and they had no beds available.”

Nearly all long-term care residents and staff in South Dakota have been tested for COVID-19. Now, the Department of Health has released guidelines for reopening those facilities. 

The plan includes three phases with different levels of restrictions. The first phase now allows outdoor visits between residents and family if the facility has completed mass testing. All residents, staff and visitors must wear masks and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

South Dakota Department of Health

The South Dakota Department of Health is organizing mass COVID-19 testing of all nursing home and assisted-living residents and employees. Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says that’s the first of several vulnerable populations the state is targeting over the next several weeks. 

Malsam-Rysdon says the mass testing will start next week with nursing homes and attached assisted living facilities in communities with significant spread of COVID-19. She admits it’s a tall order.

The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls will close for three days this weekend after becoming a cluster of coronavirus transmission. Health officials say about 80 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The union representing those workers says that number is closer to 120. 

State officials say they’re monitoring the situation, while the city develops a more targeted communication plan.

State officials won’t say how many new COVID-19 cases are connected to the Smithfield outbreak. And state epidemiologist Josh Clayton says they do not identify specific hotspots. 

Minnehaha County—which includes most of Sioux Falls—accounts for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 cases. State and city officials have identified a hot-spot of coronavirus transmission, but won’t publicly identify it. 

Mayor Paul TenHaken says the state identifies hot spots and then works with the city public health departments on mitigation efforts. 

“There is a spot in Minnehaha County that we’re working very closely with the state. I’m not gonna name a business or an organization," says TenHaken, "but we are working with one employer specifically."

State health officials are reluctant to address questions about the projected death rates for COVID-19. They say infection rates, mitigation efforts, and other factors make it difficult to predict, but they outlined the formula they are using. 

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the department’s projections focus on predicting hospital capacity needs, but she notes previous estimates of death rates from COVID-19.

“That ranges from 0.5 to 3 percent of positive cases.”

Cara Hetland / SDPB

Governor Kristi Noem has already issued a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus. But many are waiting for her to declare a public health emergency. 

That distinction is frustrating local leaders—especially after lawmakers defeated a bill that would have granted more specific authorities during a public health emergency. 

A state of emergency gives the governor more flexibility to work with federal partners. It also triggers certain state resources. For instance, the governor declared a state of emergency last year to help responses during major flooding. 

Governor Declares State of Emergency, Closes Schools

Mar 13, 2020

Governor Kristi Noem has declared a state of emergency, which allows state agencies to accept funding or other resources to treat and stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a press conference on Friday, the governor announced several other precautions—including statewide school closures.

Governor Noem is calling for all public k-12 schools to close next week. She’s encouraging private schools to do the same.

“I’m recommending the schools use this time to clean their facilities and to prepare for the following week,” she says during the announcement.


South Dakota’s public health lab has confirmed five cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Governor Noem is partially activating the state’s emergency operations center. She says the state and its healthcare professionals are prepared to respond.

The confirmed cases are in Beadle, Charles-Mix, Davison and Minnehaha counties. The fifth case in Pennington county is related to a man in his 60’s with underlying health issues who died on Tuesday.

Governor Noem says COVID-19 is not confirmed to be the cause of death.

After more than two hours of testimony and discussion, the House Health and Human Services committee rejects a bill that prohibits schools from requiring vaccinations. 

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm sponsored the bill and says it’s unfortunate the bill has been referenced as “anti-vax.” He says it’s really about medical freedom.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Some South Dakota lawmakers want to loosen regulations on nursing home beds. One measure allows nursing homes to move certain beds within organizations or sell them. A split committee in the State House is sending the legislation to the full chamber.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

South Dakotans who don’t have insurance are more likely to skip cancer screenings. Figures from the South Dakota Department of Health show insurance status affects patients’ preventative care decisions.

Health leaders are examining cancer screening rates, and they say a stark division emerges when breaking down the numbers.

Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon leads South Dakota’s Department of Health. She says people without insurance receive fewer cancer screenings than people with health coverage.