The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on Thursday announced 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina, including 194 in Horry County.
“This is our second highest report of new cases in a single day in South Carolina," said DHEC Director of Public Health Dr. Joan Duwve.
The agency also announced 22 more deaths related to the disease, with three of them from Horry County. The deaths are reported as DHEC learns about them and does not mean that every death occurred within 24 hours of the announcement.
It brings Horry County’s cumulative case total up to 5,203 with 55 deaths, and South Carolina’s total up to 50,548 cases with 898 deaths.
More than 20 percent of the 8,350 samples tested yesterday came back positive for COVID-19.
As of Thursday morning, of the 8,058 hospital beds occupied around the state, there were 1,433 beds holding COVID-19 patietns. Horry County’s hospital capacity was almost 87 percent full, with 99 beds available.
Public health experts say the high percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive and the rising number of hospitalizations are indicative of a sicker population, and Tidelands Health is starting to worry about capacity.
Around the state, 172 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators, Duwve said.
Tidelands said that on June 18, it had three patients hospitalized with COVID-19. But by Wednesday, the health system had 47 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and another 10 hospitalized and awaiting test results. As of Wednesday, the health system’s ICU beds were at 96 percent capacity.
And the percentage of younger folks being hospitalized with COVID-19 is growing.
From the start of the pandemic through June 15, two thirds of Tidelands COVID-19 hospitalizations were people over 65.
Since then, more than half of hospitalizations have been people under 65.
As of June 15, 38 percent of hospitalized patients were between 41 and 64-years-old, 10 percent were between 26 and 40-years-old and 2 percent were under 25, Tidelands said.
“Don’t believe this virus only affects the elderly – that’s not true. Don’t believe it’s just like the flu – that’s also not true,” said Tidelands’ vice president of medical affairs Dr. Gerald Harmon. “We need the people of our region to recognize this threat and take it seriously. Wear a mask, wash your hands, observe social distancing and avoid large gatherings. These simple steps will help you protect yourself, your loved ones and our community’s health care resources.”
To respond to the diminishing hospital capacity, Tidelands is expanding staffing to keep up.
“We’re approaching that in a number of ways, including: reassigning staff within our health system to support the areas of greatest need; offering incentive pay for current staff members who pick up additional shifts; aggressively recruiting to fill vacant positions; securing supplemental temporary nursing staff from staffing agencies; and temporarily rescheduling inpatient elective surgeries to redirect those staff resources,” said Tidelands Health spokesperson Dawn Bryant in an email.
“Working with the South Carolina Hospital Association, we’re also exploring the availability of National Guard clinical professionals to support our efforts as has occurred in other states facing a COVID-19 surge,” Bryant added. “This multifaceted approach is allowing us to effectively respond to the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations that’s occurring across our region.”
The South Carolina Hospital Association has helped develop a surge plan in case things get bad. Among the ideas found in the plan, are using hotels, coliseums and shuttered hospitals to hold less-severe patients.
So far, hospitals have developed their own surge plans and the state isn't quite ready to send patents into hotels.
"We’ve been in contact with all of the hospitals. Tidelands has put in a resource request to EMD for staffing support," said South Carolina Emergency Management Division spokesperson Derrec Becker, adding the department might reach out to the federal government for support. "We are not to the point yet of looking at alternate facilities. But we started talking with the hospitals on a daily basis starting last week."
To save lives and help slow the spread of COVID-19, public health experts recommend wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, avoiding large public gatherings, washing your hands and staying home when sick.
"Our friends, neighbors and fellow South Carolinians are sicker than they’ve ever been because of this virus," Duwve said. "Our actions are important. They impact and affect others."
DHEC has a list of all free mobile testing clinics where residents can get tested for COVID-19. The list can be found by clicking here.
So far, Tidelands Health has tested 14,961 distinct individuals for COVID-19, with 1,338 testing positive.
Several testing events hosted by Tidelands Health are coming up in our area.
They all start at 10 a.m. and last until supplies run out.
• Friday at Georgetown High School
• July 17 at Myrtle Beach Pelicans Stadium
• July 24 at Coastal Carolina University
• July 31 at Myrtle Beach Pelicans Stadium