RAPID CITY, S.D. — For almost two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has plagued the globe.
Whether it was the first surge that began in early 2020 or the Delta variant surge that overcrowded intensive care units and emergency rooms around the world.
In September, Monument Health’s Intensive Care Unit was full to the point that concern was mounting. That has subsided, as the positive test rate in Pennington County is now around 10 percent.
But, a new similar surge could be on the way, specifically during the winter.
Monument Health officials are expecting the Omicron variant, which is said to be nearly twice as transmissible as the Delta variant, to create a similar problem.
“Two weeks ago, we were about three percent of cases in the United States were Omicron and just two weeks later, 73 percent of all cases being sequenced are Omicron, so that’s a huge jump in a very short time. Even the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible, did not jump so quickly in numbers ,” said Dr. Shankar Kurra, the Vice President of Medical Affairs for Monument Health.
Through the last 22 months, Monument Health and hospitals around the country have seen two surges of the virus, the most recent being the Delta variant.
Dr. Kurra also expanded on some fundamental differences between the Delta and Omicron variants.
According to Dr. Kurra, the Omicron has a vast difference in its Spike Protein that gives it some resistance to monoclonal antibodies, which is a treatment for more at risk COVID-19 patients.
In other words, the pandemic isn’t over.
As of Tuesday, South Dakota is one of three states, along with Oklahoma and Montana, to not have a confirmed case of the variant. That information is made available after positive COVID-19 tests are sent to different, more advanced labs for sequencing or more advanced testing for specific variants.
Dr. Kurra says it will take at least a month to be able to report on the severity of illness. He says that the research starts with getting the numbers on rising cases and then the data comes in on hospitalizations, followed by another month when the number of deaths are reported.
Although that might create some comfort, Dr. Kurra says that it’s only just a matter of time before the first case is reported in the state.
“Every other state around us has already reported it, and this virus doesn’t know boundaries and it transmits very effectively as we know, so I would say within this week I would expect someone to have sequenced an Omicron variant here in South Dakota,” Dr. Kurra said.
Dr. Kurra says that there are a total of 30 COVID-19 patients currently being treated in Monument Health’s ICU. All of which are unvaccinated.
While starting with being vaccinated is good, Dr. Kurra says that the booster shot is the best to reduce the impact of the new variant.
“Once you have the booster dose, then your level of protection is very high,” Dr. Kurra said. “We’re talking 80 percent or higher.”
With this being the season of giving, there’s no doubt that people will be traveling to see their loved ones, but Dr. Kurra says that it’s wise to make sure that your family is vaccinated and if not, ask them to consider it to protect older family members.
Dr. Kurra says that testing is important. He advises the public to test the day of travel and monitor for symptoms. He says that to test five days after travel as well.
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, the following precautions should be taken:
- Practicing good hygiene (hand-washing, cleaning surfaces, etc.);
- Physical distancing;
- Staying home when sick;
- Wearing a mask in crowded/confined spaces (i.e. Airports); and
- Choosing to get a COVID-19 vaccine / regular testing.