SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday said she was activating the National Guard to set up temporary hospitals in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.
The temporary hospitals will add 100 beds in each of the state's largest cities as hospitals prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients. They will be used to separate people with the coronavirus from other people at the hospital, said Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon. The National Guard is looking at sites where they could set up the hospitals, which would take several weeks to set up, according to Malsam-Rysdon. She did not give an estimated date for when they could be running.
The Republican governor said that utilizing the National Guard was part of her effort to prepare for months of increasing infections, which she doesn’t expect to peak until the end of June at the earliest.
Noem said she hopes that social distancing efforts blunts the onset of COVID-19 patients, allowing the state’s hospital system to work through manageable waves of infections rather than be swamped with a tsumani of people needing life-saving care. But the governor has resisted mandating business closures or issuing stay-at-home orders, a move she argues is necessary to sustain some semblance of life and economic activity over the months.
South Dakota health officials continued to report rising numbers of infections Thursday, announcing that 36 more people have confirmed infections. The state has total 165 confirmed cases. Two people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have died; while 57 people have recovered.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.
“Hang in there everybody, we will get through this together,” Noem said.
The governor called newly released unemployment figures “alarming.” 6,645 people made new claims for unemployment benefits last week in the state, but Noem said she hoped that allowing businesses to stay open would reduce layoffs.
Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman said people have had to wait an hour-and-a-half to file unemployment claims with the state's call center. She encouraged people to file online to reduce that surge.