SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota health authorities reported another 12 COVID-19 fatalities in the state on Saturday, Jan. 23, even as hospitalizations due to the virus dropped to a four-month low.

The newly reported fatalities push the state's pandemic death toll to 1,696, with half of those deaths reported in just the last two months -- a tally that pushed South Dakota to seventh among U.S. states and territories for the number of per-capita COVID-19 deaths, according to a New York Times data tracker.

But there are a raft of encouraging signs the pandemic picture is improving in South Dakota as it moves further away from its fall-winter surge:

  • The number of new fatalities has slowed in recent weeks. The state is only ranked 24th among states for COVID-19 deaths per capita in the last seven days, according to the NYT tracker.
  • Hospitalizations, now at 172 statewide, have hit a low not seen since late September, after peaking at 607 on Nov. 10.
  • The 247 new positive tests reported Saturday is about flat with the daily average over the past week.
  • The 4,021 active cases reported Saturday is the lowest count since early October, and continues to trend down as fewer new cases are reported and tracked.

Vaccinations also continue to be a bright spot for South Dakota. The state Department of Health reports 56,987 people -- or 6.4% of the state's population -- have gotten at least one dose of two-dose COVID vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Of those, 16,256 have received both required doses and are fully vaccinated.

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South Dakota remains a top state for the efficiency of its vaccination distribution and administration, despite struggles in other states with logistical bottlenecks. The state ranks fourth in a Bloomberg tracker of states who have administered the highest percentage of received doses, behind only North Dakota, West Virginia and New Mexico, and sixth among states for its per-capita rate of shots in arms.

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