Avera CEO Seeks City Help In Virus Fight

With a statewide mask effort under way, an Avera Health official is asking the Yankton City Commission to help attack a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Avera Sacred Heart Hospital CEO Doug Ekeren appeared Monday night for the city’s support in battling rising COVID-19 numbers both in Yankton County and across the state.

“I’m asking this evening for you as a City Commission to help us slow this down locally,” he said.

The state’s three major health care systems — Avera Health, Sanford Health and Monument — are holding a press conference today (Tuesday) to launch a new initiative, Ekeren told the commissioners.

“We’re asking support for a statewide masking effort and social distancing as we try to raise awareness of this (surge) and the need to slow down this spread,” he said, noting clinics and other health care facilities are also supporting the effort.

The Yankton City Commission can help spread the message, Ekeren said.

“The positive rates and the hospitalizations are higher than what we have seen to any point during this pandemic,” he said. “That (situation) is not isolated to us here in Yankton. Over the last several weeks, we have seen it from Lincoln and Omaha north to North Dakota.”

Health care facilities are increasingly finding themselves struggling or even unable to handle their rising patient load, Ekeren said.

“We’re in a situation where the patient can’t always be cared for locally and has to be moved to different community and different facilities where there is available space,” he said.

But many times, the issue becomes one of staffing rather than available hospital or ICU beds, Ekeren said. A health care facility may lose staff members who need to spend 10 days in isolation because they contracted the virus or 14 days in quarantine because they have been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Ekeren warned a rise in hospitalizations usually follow two or three weeks after a high rate of positive testing.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” he said. “We’re expecting a surge of patients.”

City Commissioner Amy Miner said the testing numbers in Yankton have stayed relatively the same as last spring, and the testing rate hasn’t seen any significant increase even though numbers were expected to go up by now.

The DOH figures show fewer than 50 tests daily, with a high positivity rate, Miner added.

The testing numbers have increased but remain relatively low for Yankton, Ekeren said. “We’re not talking hundreds and thousands of tests per day. Most days, we’ll see less than 100 tests,” he said.

South Dakota appears headed to a very crucial stage and may experience its first true wave of the pandemic, Ekeren said.

“When you look at the surge taking place on the East and West coasts several months ago, the media is calling (the next increase) their second wave,” he said. “For us, this is our first wave. This is really the first surge we have seen.”

Avera will ask for prior COVID testing for those seeking elective surgeries or obstetrics delivery, which not only provides the best patient care but also protects staff, Ekeren said.

The long haul still lies ahead, Ekeren said. “We’ll deal with the virus until we have a vaccine,” he said.

In other business, the city commission:

• approved a project pre-application and signature authorization for the Chan Gurney Airport North Taxi Lane and Access Road Project;

• approved a Nov. 9 hearing for rezoning from a multiple family residential designation to a highway business designation on the west side of the 1000 block of Ferdig Avenue, requested by Joseph and Roberta Kleinschmit.

• approved the declaration and sale of city surplus property;

• approved the sale of 1.6 acres at 905 E. 7th Street for economic development purposes;

• defeated 5-4 a two-way stop at the Mulberry and Fifth Street intersection;

• conducted a work session prior to the official meeting, during which it heard presentations on the Summit Activities Center revenue, expenses and negotiated agreement with the Yankton School District.

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(1) comment

Abhijeet Dokkarth

This is such a joke! With Avera insurance, you still have to pay $80 just to get tested for covid-19. If they actually cared they wouldn't do that and we'd have more realistic numbers. The numbers the Dakotan is reporting is much lower than reality.

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