Noem blames surge in cases on testing as hospitals fill

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2019, file photo, Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first budget address to lawmakers at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have hit their highest points recently throughout the Midwest, where the growth in new cases has been the worst in the nation. “In South Dakota, we didn’t take a one size fits all approach and the results have been incredible,” Gov. Kristi Noem told lawmakers in her state, which Johns Hopkins University says ranks second in the country for new cases per capita.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday blamed South Dakota's recent surge in coronavirus cases on an increase in testing, even as the state saw a new high in the number of people hospitalized by the virus.

There are currently no open general-care hospital beds in the southeastern part of the state, which contains the two largest hospitals, according to the Department of Health. Hospitals are dealing with both an increase in COVID-19 patients and people needing other medical care. The hospitals in Sioux Falls do have about 41% of their Intensive Care Units available.

“We have triple the amount of testing that we are doing in the state of South Dakota, which is why we're seeing elevated positive cases,” Noem said. “That's normal, that's natural, that's expected.”

The Republican governor did not explain how an increase in hospitalizations would be connected to an increase in testing. The state has also seen one of the nation's highest positivity rates for testing in the last 14 days, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. The roughly 23% positivity rate is an indication there are more infections than tests are indicating.

The Department of Health reported 302 people are currently in the hospital with COVID-19, including 61 in Intensive Care Units. While health officials have said the state has plenty of hospital capacity as it sees a surge of the virus, hospitals have had to juggle patients as they prioritize people with severe cases of COVID-19.

The state currently has the nation's second-highest number of new cases per capita in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins. There were about 815 new cases per 100,000 people in the state.

Noem said that the state's health care providers have reported to her they “are in good shape." She pointed out that people delaying treatment for routine medical issues early on in the pandemic has led to an increase in hospitalizations for other diseases.

The Department of Health released a more detailed picture of hospital capacity across the state on Tuesday, breaking the state into four regions and providing COVID-19 patient numbers by facility.

Noem raised the possibility of the National Guard assembling field hospitals if hospitals become overwhelmed with patients, but said "that's not necessary at this time.”

The Department of Health also reported 414 more people had tested positive for the virus. No deaths were reported, leaving the number of people who have died from COVID-19 at 288.

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