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The inability of the American medical system to perform timely, accurate testing for the presence of COVID-19 has hampered efforts to understand and respond to the pandemic. (Photo: Stock image)

When it comes to COVID-19 in the education system of South Dakota, the number of higher education and K-12 cases are trending in opposite directions week-over-week, state health department data reveals. 

And there may not be a clear reason why, state health officials said this week.

Cases at the higher ed level climbed to 1,329 by Friday, while cases at the K-12 level reached 1,371. While those overall totals are similar, the change over time shows the difference. 

More: All S.D. public universities will require masks indoors when semester starts

Cases within South Dakota’s colleges haven’t been above 200 weekly since Sept. 12, with the highest amount of new cases reported the week of Aug. 29 at 457. This week, 95 new cases were reported. More than 1,170 people have recovered, more than 1,260 of the overall cases are students and 66 are staff.

New cases at the K-12 level, however, have surpassed 200 each week since Sept. 12, with 347 new cases reported as of Friday, the highest yet. More than 900 people have recovered,  968 of the overall cases were students and the rest are staff.

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One of the contributing factors? The difference in care-seeking behavior, state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton told media during a press conference Monday. 

More: Here are the schools and universities with confirmed coronavirus cases

“Individuals who are younger adults may be a little bit less likely to seek testing from their medical provider if they’re identified as a close contact or if they develop symptoms, and just opt to stay home for 10 days while they’re experiencing those symptoms,” he said. 

More: With lack of clear messaging, mask policies vary in South Dakota schools

The health department also has a strong focus on working with K-12 schools to make sure students can access learning safely, he said. 

“A little bit of that (difference) might be the additional focus we have in making sure we’re contacting those folks with a priority on those close contacts,” Clayton said. “What individual actions beyond that, I’m not aware of any that would show the decrease we’ve seen in college-age students and account for the increases that we’ve seen in the K-12 students.”

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