826 tidelands covid vaccine booster_JM01.JPG

Mary Ellen Hoffman, registered nurse, gives a patient a booster vaccine against COVID-19 at Tidelands Health near The Market Common in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Tidelands is hiring more than 100 people to fill temporary positions as the hospital responds to demand for the vaccine and boosters. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Four Horry County schools have now made the move to virtual learning as the county sees a rise in COVID-19 cases.

School officials announced Thursday that Whittemore Park Middle would go virtual beginning Friday, Sept. 3, due to cases an increase in cases. The school will remain virtual until Sept. 17. As of Thursday morning, the school has 36 COVID-19 cases among students and one faculty case, according to Horry County Schools' online dashboard.

On Wednesday, Loris Middle School announced it was moving to distance learning on Sept. 2. The announcement came a day after Conway High School announced it was moving to distance learning, starting Sept. 1, and Aynor Middle was the first to go to distance learning through Sept. 13.

As of Monday, a total of 249 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Horry County, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said Wednesday.

From Sunday, Aug. 22 to Saturday, Aug. 31, there were a total of 1,772 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, with 18 total deaths. The number of confirmed cases in the past week is a near 23 percent increase from the previous week, which saw 1,441 confirmed cases.

According to the Horry County Schools COVID-19 dashboard, there were 980 confirmed cases among students as of Tuesday afternoon. Ocean Bay Elementary has the most confirmed cases with 49. St. James Middle is next with 43.

Nearly 10,000 of Horry County students are currently in quarantine, meaning over 20% of the student body is home.

On Wednesday afternoon, Horry County Schools Board Chairman Ken Richardson posted a statement to his personal Facebook page for parents.

"Back in June, we thought that this school year would be very different, and COVID-19 would be behind us," Richardson said in his post. "Unfortunately, with the Delta variant, the virus has made a comeback, and we are having to take steps to deal with it again. That’s why recently some of our schools had to move to distance learning for a two-week period."
 
Richardson said that he has been in contact with SCDHEC Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler and working with her on what HCS can do to shorten student and staff member quarantines. Richardson added that HCS Superintendent Rick Maxey was in Columbia on Wednesday meeting with school superintendents across the state to discuss ways to deal with COVID-19 and keep students safe and in school.
 
In his post, Richardson said that when it comes to requiring masks in schools, HCS is waiting on the state Supreme Court's decision on the proviso passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster. The law prohibits schools from using state funds to enforce mask mandates. The Supreme Court hearing on this law began this week.
 
"Hopefully, we will hear a decision soon," Richardson said.
 
Richardson also gave praise to faculty and staff across the county school system.

"On behalf of the board, I want to thank all schools’ nurses, teachers, support staff, and principals for all that they are doing to serve our Horry County students in each of their schools," Richardson said.

Area hospitals are continuing to see the impacts from the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the county.

Conway Medical Center spokesperson Allyson Floyd said that CMC was at 80% capacity as of Wednesday morning. Last week, CMC changed its visitation hours due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Floyd said that CMC currently has 48 COVID positive hospitalized patients, with 22 in ICU and 13 on ventilators. Of the 48 COVID positive patients, 42 are unvaccinated and six are fully vaccinated. Floyd said almost all of the fully vaccinated patients are over the age of 70 with serious underlying health conditions. She added that the vaccinated patients are much less sick than those who are unvaccinated.

From Aug. 23 to Aug. 30, there were nine COVID patient deaths at CMC.

In the past week, Floyd said that CMC surpassed it’s record for the highest number of COVID positive cases twice since the pandemic began in March 2020. On Wednesday, Aug. 25, CMC saw 57 COVID positive patients, surpassing the record of 56 on July 20, 2020. Three days later, Wednesday’s record was broken after CMC had 61 COVID inpatients on Saturday, Aug. 28. Of those 61 patients, 24 were in ICU and 13 were on ventilators.

The number for COVID positive admissions was up for the month of August, higher than any other month previously since March 2020, Floyd said. There were a total of 156 COVID positive admissions to Conway Medical in August, which is more than twice the number of admissions from the previous two months combined.

Katie Maclay with Grand Strand Medical Center said that the hospital is currently at 100% capacity as of Wednesday morning, with 84 COVID-19 hospitalizations. Of those 84 patients, nine are on ventilators.

Maclay said that the hospital was unable to provide information regarding the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated patients that have been hospitalized with COVID.

From Aug. 23 to Aug. 30, there were five COVID-19 deaths at Grand Strand Medical Center, Maclay said.

Last week, Tidelands Health opened a third respiratory clinic to meet the demand in the rise of COVID-19. The third clinic was opened a week after Tidelands opened two respiratory clinics, one in Murrells Inlet and the other in Georgetown on Aug. 16.

Dawn Bryant, spokesperson for Tidelands Health, said that the hospital system is currently at 109% capacity, with 56 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those 56 patients, 51 are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. There are 13 COVID patients who are in ICU and 10 who are on ventilators, all of whom are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Between Aug. 23 and Aug. 30, Bryant said that Tidelands had nine COVID-19 deaths.

As of Tuesday, 663 of Horry County's 703 hospital beds were occupied, according to DHEC. Of those 663, 190 were occupied by patients who have COVID-19. DHEC also reports that 92 of the county's 96 ICU beds are occupied, with half of those being occupied by COVID-19 patients. DHEC also reports that 45 of the 159 ventilators in the county are being used, with 29 being used by COVID-19 patients.

Reach Ian Livingston Brooking at 843-248-6882 for any story ideas or news happening in your area.

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