Fact Check: CNN Falsely Claims Hospitalizations 'Surging' in South Dakota County

CLAIM: CNN claims hospitalizations are “surging” in South Dakota’s Pennington County, drawing specific attention to Rapid City’s Monument Health hospital.

VERDICT: False. Both South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Rapid City’s Monument Health hospital are correcting the record, as the Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Monument Health made it clear that CNN inaccurately summarized the story, emphasizing that the hospital has actually seen “steady decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks.”

In the February 8, 2022 report, titled “Omicron may be on the decline, but this South Dakota hospital is still feeling its peak,” CNN attempts to attribute the alleged rise to “low vaccination rates and a lack of coronavirus restrictions.” Noem’s office also noted that CNN “shamed attendees of the Black Hills Stock Show and violated HIPPA by improperly including footage of patients.”

“South Dakotans deserve the facts so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their loved-ones. Unfortunately, CNN’s claims about COVID-19 in Pennington County were not factual,” Noem said in a statement, attributing the CNN piece as a “political hit job” which “ignored the mountains of factual data that we sent to them.”

“We are demanding a correction,” she said, assuring that they are “working together to take care of people who get sick with COVID-19.”

“We will not allow divisive out-of-state media outlets to get in the way of the partnerships between the State of South Dakota and our excellent hospital systems,” she emphasized.

Robin Zebroski, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Monument Health, released a statement debunking CNN’s story.

“A six-hour visit by CNN was summarized inaccurately in the story referenced. The quotes pulled were taken out of context to support a narrative that simply is not true,” Zebroski said, noting the hospital has “seen a steady decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks, and the overall testing positivity rate has gone down as well.”

“We strongly support Governor Noem and are disappointed by the CNN report,” she added.

Nevertheless, CNN reported that “Rapid City is the seat of Pennington County” has “the highest number of active cases in the state.”

“With a population of about 114,000, the county had 3,744 active Covid-19 cases Tuesday, and almost 31% of weekly tests reported were positive for the virus, according to the state’s database,” CNN reported.

 Noem’s office, however, noted that coronavirus hospitalizations in Pennington County “peaked three weeks ago, on January 18, 2022.”“Since then, they have declined by 32 percent,” her office said.Additionally, Joan Adam, Interim Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Health, said CNN did not reach out to the agency for the story.

“The Department of Health and the Governor’s Office provided data to be included in their story, but CNN ignored it,” Adam said.

“Governor Noem and the Department of Health will continue to work with our hospital systems to take care of people and ensure that up-to-date data is available to all South Dakotans. To find resources and facts, visit COVID.SD.gov,” Adam continued.

Monument Health is also asking for CNN to retract the story due to HIPAA violations in its coverage, per the governor’s press release.

Hannah Bleau