SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed five more South Dakotans, bringing the state's death toll from the virus to 59, state health officials reported Friday, May 29.

Information is limited on the new fatalities. State officials have regularly refused to divulge even general details on individual deaths, citing privacy concerns. But according to aggregated data from the Department of Health, the five newly reported fatalities included:

  • Four residents of Minnehaha County, one from Beadle County;
  • Three men, two women;
  • Two people in their 40s, one in their 70s and two age 80 or above.

There are two large businesses with known COVID-19 outbreaks. At the DemKota Ranch Beef meat plant in Aberdeen, there are 154 employees who have tested positive for the virus, and 125 have recovered. At the Jack Links Protein Snacks beef jerky plant in Alpena, there are 74 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 with 25 recoveries. The company also announced this week one of its employees at the plant had died from the virus.

The Jack Link's beef jerky plant in Alpena. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The Jack Link's beef jerky plant in Alpena. (Matt Gade / Republic)

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State officials haven't released details on the number of close-contact cases linked to either outbreak, although they did provide that data for the state's largest outbreak at the Smithfield Foods meat packing plant in Sioux Falls.

That outbreak — which stretched from late March into May — is officially linked to 1,098 cases among workers and family members, although a follow up mass testing of employees and their families uncovered about 870 positive cases.

Testing of state residents found another 73 cases of COVID-19, raising the state's all-time total to 4,866, according to data reported by state officials on Friday. Of those, 1,063 South Dakotans are known to still be suffering from COVID-19 and 95 are in the hospital. Over 3,700 South Dakotans have recovered from the virus, which has hospitalized 418 state residents.

The state also passed a testing landmark on Friday. State, clinical and private labs have processed 40,000 tests for COVID-19 in South Dakota, up 1,656 from the previous day — the state's third-highest day of testing, according to a Forum New Service analysis.

Testing has surged in recent days due to a state-coordinated mass-testing of residents and workers at senior care and assisted living facilities. The four-week effort is about half complete, and 7,340 individuals have been tested so far, said Kim Malsam Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Health.

The most-recent modeling from state officials forecast a mid-June surge of the virus, but if that surge comes, state and hospital officials say they're ready to handle it. As of Friday, COVID-19 patients are using only 8% of intensive care unit beds, 4% of all hospital beds and 5% of available ventilators.

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