Simplified: Sioux Falls has more than 1,500 active COVID-19 cases right now, with the delta variant as the primary strain. Health officials say without vaccines it'd be much worse, but as hospitals fill, they're bracing for a tough winter and urging people to get their shot.

Why it matters

  • About half of eligible Sioux Falls residents are vaccinated right now, according to city data.
  • No major side effects have been recorded locally, Public Health Director Dr. Charles Chima told the City Council Tuesday.
  • Hospitals are full, but it isn't just coronavirus patients. Avera Chief Medical Officer Mike Elliott said McKennan's intensive care unit is between 95 and 100 percent full, and part of that is because of other illnesses or people who delayed surgeries during the last year.
  • Vaccines have helped, officials say. The vast majority of people hospitalized for COVID-19 – around 80 to 90 percent, Elliott said – are unvaccinated.
  • Twenty-eight Sioux Falls residents have died due to the coronavirus since vaccines became widely available in April, according to city data.
"Every discussion about mitigation strategy should start with, let's help everybody get vaccinated," Elliott said, adding that the risk of being in intensive care is 29-times lower for a vaccinated person than an unvaccinated one.

What are hospitals bracing for?

A combined COVID-19 and flu season, for one.

"We got a pass last year on flu season," said Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president medical officer with Sanford. "We anticipate that not happening again."

Flu shots aren't as effective as the COVID-19 vaccine, Wilde said, but he encourages people to get them because they do help prevent people from getting sick.

Both Sanford and Avera are also bringing back some of the things they did earlier in the pandemic to prepare for surges.

  • Avera reinstated its COVID hotline.
  • Sanford is ramping up its home monitoring program to be able to provide virtual care.

Sanford has also seen success with the use of monoclonal antibodies as a treatment, Wilde said.

What else did health officials say?

Elliott said he hears people when they say they're tired of the pandemic or that they just want to get back to normal.

"What I'm 100 percent confident of is that the virus doesn't care," he said.

Chima said even though the city has seen worse when it comes to active cases, the delta variant is much more transmissible.

"Even vaccinated people can transmit," Chima said.

That said, for vaccinated people, the amount of virus they're shedding (doctor-speak for when the virus replicates and reproduces) is much less than the amount of virus shed by an unvaccinated person, Wilde said.

All three stressed the importance of getting a vaccine, and Elliott added if a person has any questions about where to find a shot, needs a ride to get there or has further vaccine-related questions, they can find more info on the city's website.