PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota’s two largest healthcare systems say they are reducing the number of surgeries at their flagship facilities in Sioux Falls, as they attempt to deal with capacity concerns amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

Sanford Health and Avera Health confirmed their separate plans to limit surgeries on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Sanford Health said it is halting any new elective surgeries Oct. 19-23 that require an overnight stay in the hospital, although currently scheduled surgeries will still take place.

Sanford continues to see “large numbers of patients seeking care” at all its facilities, said Dr. Mike Wilde, Sanford Health chief medical officer.

We have discussed our surge plans to accommodate patients, including prioritizing patients with the greatest need, as well as caring for certain adult patients in the Children’s Castle, room occupancy, and surgery scheduling,” Wilde said.

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Avera Health said it is postponing surgeries at its Avera Surgery Center effective Monday and moving them to other facilities so surgery center staff can help fill staff shortages elsewhere, particularly needed in its inpatient units, according to an internal email confirmed by the health system.

According to the email, the health system is struggling with staff shortages due to workers being sick with or exposed to COVID-19. Less than 5% of surgeries needed to be postponed under the plan, said Avera Health spokesman Cale Feller.

“Everyone’s workforce is being impacted by this virus – child care, schools, health care, news, small businesses and more,” he said. “The public can slow community spread by diligently wearing a mask, social distancing and practicing proper hand hygiene regularly. We can all help our health care heroes through this surge with those very simple steps.”

By the numbers

Thirteen more people in South Dakota have died from COVID-19, state officials said.

The deaths were reported to the South Dakota Department of Health on Thursday, Oct. 15. That raised the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 304.

Among the deaths were a person in their 40s, another in their 60s, three people in their 70s and eight people in the 80 and over age range.

The state also reported 797 new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the state’s total case count to 31,012.

Active cases are now at 7,132, up from Wednesday’s active case count of 6,604.

Currently there are 304 people hospitalized in South Dakota for COVID-19.

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