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Sanford, Avera leaders: Get vaccinated, because the unvaccinated are filling our hospitals

They say the surging pandemic is stressing health systems by not only sending more people to the hospital, but also by taking staff away who are either sick with COVID-19, recovering, or have to stay home as caregivers because the virus has closed child care centers.

A graphic of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, that causes COVID-19.
Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Leaders from South Dakota's two largest health systems on Thursday, Jan. 20, asked the public to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, as the omicron variant of the virus fills hospitals with patients.

Sanford Health and Avera Medical Group officials made the plea during a joint news conference Thursday in Sioux Falls.

They say the surging pandemic is stressing health systems by not only sending more people to the hospital, but also by taking staff away who are either sick with COVID-19, recovering, or have to stay home as caregivers because the virus has closed child care centers.

Hundreds of workers are absent every day at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, said Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president medical officer of Sanford Health-Sioux Falls.

"This is an urgent situation," Wilde said. "We're doing everything we can to prevent a workforce shortage to make sure we can be there for our communities who rely on us in their greatest time of need."


Wilde was joined by Dr. David Basel, vice president for clinical quality for Avera Medical Group. Basel said Avera Health has seen the number of COVID-19 patients in its facilities double in the past two weeks. And despite having "battle-tested" surge plans, the situation is forcing difficult decisions about which seriously ill patient needs a critically needed bed.

"We are making harder and harder choices every day and those choices get harder every day as those numbers go up," he said.

Both health system leaders urged members of the public to get fully vaccinated and get a booster shot. Wilde noted about 90% of COVID-19 patients being cared for in the Sanford Health system are unvaccinated.

The following are the state Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Thursday. All data are the latest available but should be considered preliminary and could be updated at a later date by health officials.


  • INITIAL DOSE ADMINISTERED (IF 2-DOSE VACCINE): 647,720 people, 73.2% of state's population*
  • FULLY VACCINATED: 516,850 people, 58.4% of state's population
  • BOOSTER DOSE RECEIVED: 194,395 people, 37.6% of state's vaccinated population

*Note: The percentage presented here via the CDC differs from the state Department of Health percentage posted on its online dashboard, because the department's data indicates percentage of state population age 5 and older, not the state's total population.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 2,588 (seven-day daily average: 3,493)
  • TOTAL CASES: 214,473
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 177,805

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS: 41 (seven-day daily average: 59)
Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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