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As COVID-19 spikes, Mitchell physician urges community to practice safety measures

The entrance of City Hall located at 612 N. Main St. (Republic file photo)

As coronavirus infections continue spiking in Davison County, a local emergency physician sounded the alarm on Monday night during the Mitchell City Council meeting.

Dr. Hilary Rockwell, an emergency physician at Avera Queen of Peace, spoke to the council and provided an update on Davison County’s COVID-19 cases. Rockwell’s update comes after Davison County experienced its largest surge of coronavirus cases in the month of October, which saw active cases climb to over 400.

“We are doing our best, but we are getting a little overwhelmed and are worried about the next month and a half,” Rockwell said. “We need your help. COVID-19 is real, and it is not going away.”

In the midst of Davison County’s surge, Rockwell said Avera Queen of Peace has been forced to close a couple times due to reaching capacity with the combination of health care staff members who either became ill with the virus or had exceeded their shift hours.

As of Monday, Davison County had a total of 421 active cases. Since the start of the pandemic, Davison County has recorded 10 deaths, along with a total of 1,143 cases, according to the state Department of Health. However, there have been 712 recoveries reported in the county. On Monday, the state saw a significant amount of overall recoveries since the pandemic crept into the area, with nearly 3,000 patients reporting their recovery.


“If the numbers keep climbing at the rate they are climbing, we’re going to hit a tipping point with health care in which we won’t be able to take care of everyone,” Rockwell. “We’re not there yet right now, and we are doing everything we can to not get there and staff accordingly to mitigate.”

In September, Rockwell said the hospital would see a daily average of around three to four coronavirus patients who had severe enough symptoms to be checked in. But over the past month during Davison County’s surge, Rockwell said the daily average has risen to about 10 patients, which has led to full capacity limits.

To combat the rate of the spread, Rockwell encouraged everyone in the community to practice safety measures, which includes staying home when sick, wearing a mask and washing hands frequently.

While Rockwell encouraged everyone in the community to wear a mask when possible, she said she was not calling for a mask mandate. At the previous Oct. 19 meeting, Council member Susan Tjarks proposed mandating masks to be worn at all city facilities. But after council members and several previous health care professionals opposed the idea of a mask mandate, the request never materialized.

However, Rockwell echoed the effectiveness of masks, which she said have proven to reduce the spread.

“I’m here to ask you to work with us. I’m not proposing a mask mandate, and I’m not saying to close businesses,” Rockwell said. “I am saying if we work together, we will be much more likely to keep businesses open and keep people healthy. Surgeons have been wearing them in the operating rooms for over 100 years.”

With the influenza and cold season around the corner, Rockwell said it will be especially critical to practice safety measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

“We’re staying pretty full with COVID-19 patients, as well as regular hospital volume, which will start going up at this time of year with flu and pneumonia,” Rockwell said. “We can predict that our worst months for influenza will be from November to March. We need your help for health care right now.”

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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