Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of hospitalizations. The correct information is that there are an average of 100 hospitalizations in total each day. This is an increase from recent months.

Simplified: Sioux Falls' Director of Public Health Charles Chima told the City Council Thursday that the city is seeing the second-largest surge in cases since the start of the pandemic. And, if the trend continues, he said it "might be awhile" until we get out of the surge, especially with the new Omicron variant.

Why it matters

  • Right now, South Dakota is one of few states where Omicron is not yet the dominant variant, Chima said. Omicron is also more transmissible than the Delta variant, which was already more transmissible than the original strain, he added.
  • And Chima's comments come mere days after he joined hospital leaders from Sanford and Avera for a press conference in which they urged people to take precautions during the holidays as hospital beds fill.
  • The surge in cases comes amid the holidays, and Chima advocated for the CDC's guidance for people to get vaccinated, get booster shots, avoid large crowds and isolate if they have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.
"As we celebrate the holidays, it's important to have that in our minds, that COVID is not out of our community," Chima said.

What's the city health department's strategy right now?

The focus is on vaccination.

Right now, 62 percent of people in Minnehaha and Lincoln County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Chima said he'd like to see that number closer to 80 percent.

The city has refined its approach, looking at census tract-level data for vaccination rates. That's helped them pinpoint areas of town in which to focus their messaging.

This year, the city spent $100,000 on a multi-lingual marketing campaign to provide information across the city on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, said BryAnn Becker Knecht, communications coordinator for the Mayor's Office. That campaign is also looking at specific census tracts to target.

The "Give it a Shot Sioux Falls" mobile vaccine clinic is another area where the city is working to help make vaccines more widely accessible, Chima said. People can go to the city's website to request a vaccine clinic for a neighborhood, church, business, etc.

"Whatever it takes to provide vaccine access, we are willing to do that," Chima said.

What happens next?

The city health department will be able to use some pandemic relief funds to continue its campaign to educate the public and encourage vaccination.

It's unclear if the surge in hospitalizations will be exacerbated by the holidays or not. Chima said the last few weeks have seen an average of about 100 hospitalizations per day, and as it stands now, he expects the trend could continue.

"It might be awhile until we get out of the current surge," he said.