Simplified: The omicron variant of the coronavirus is surging in Sioux Falls. That's leaving hospitals overcrowded and short-staffed as they battle the largest number of cases yet seen in nearly two years of this pandemic.

Why it matters

  • More than 11,700 people in Sioux Falls had an active COVID-19 case as of Tuesday. To put it into perspective, that's roughly 1 in every 17 people sick at one time. (Not to mention folks who have other illnesses going around like the flu or seasonal colds.)  
  • Tuesday's numbers also showed the first day-to-day drop in cases since December. Cases rose sharply the first week in January, reaching heights not yet seen in the nearly two years of the coronavirus pandemic in the city.
  • That's putting strain on hospitals, which are also battling increasing flu cases and the regular emergency room traffic such as heart attacks and strokes.
"For every patient that we discharge – or unfortunately, way too often that dies –  and opens up a bed, we are having to choose between multiple patients on who is the sickest and prioritize who can be put into that bed," Dr. David Basel, vice president of clinical quality for Avera. "And those decisions get harder each and every day."

What can be done?

The virus is going to keep spreading. It's what it does. But Basel and Sanford's Dr. Mike Wilde say there are tangible things you can do to mitigate the spread of the virus as well as its impact it has on both you and others.

Here are some things the doctors suggested to do (or not do):

  • Get vaccinated and boosted. The booster shots are especially important, Basel said, because the primary two-shot series alone is only about 30 percent effective against omicron.
  • Trust a positive test result. If your at-home test is positive, you don't need to go in and retest through a clinic. Stay home and quarantine.
  • Don't go to the ER for tests. Emergency rooms are super busy. Call your regular clinic, find an over-the-counter test, or visit a drive-through test site.
  • Stay home if you're sick. And, of course, the usual mask wearing, washing of hands and other mitigation measures that've been stressed since the start of the pandemic.
  • But do come to the hospital for medical emergencies. If you have a medical emergency, whether it's related to COVID-19 or not, the ER is still the right place for you.

What won't help?

Dr. Basel noted that while hospitals are looking closely at treatments available for COVID-19 and using them where they can, it's equally important to note what doesn't work to treat the disease.

Some substances might kill the virus in a petri dish, he added, but they don't work when put into the human body.

  • That includes things like bleach and Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug used on livestock.

What about natural immunity?

It's all about your odds of getting the virus, Wilde.

If you've had COVID-19, your odds of getting reinfected within 90 days is very low, he said.

Wilde also stressed that when it comes to longer-term immunity, your odds are better with a vaccinated immunity.

  • That plays out in what both Sanford and Avera are seeing. The vast majority of patients hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.

What happens next?

Hospitals have surge plans in place, and both Basel and Wilde said they're making it work to continue to care for people who need it.

There's also some light at the end of the tunnel, they agreed, noting that after the current surge and into the spring, it's likely we'll see cases drop and level off.