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McLeod Seacoast Hospital in North Myrtle Beach on March 16, 2020. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said Thursday that the number of COVID-19 patients rose to 81 cases across 17 counties, up from 60 on Wednesday, including one new case in Horry County. 

That means there are now six cases of COVID-19 in Horry County that have been confirmed by DHEC. The disease is expected to spread.

"Our top priorities remain preventing the spread of the disease and protecting the public health. This includes working to control spread and sharing measures that best protect our family, friends and neighbors,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.“As cases increase, we also are prioritizing identifying close contacts who are at high risk of illness from exposure and who are more likely to have serious illness.”

In the past week, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has shut down bars and restaurants to dine-in customers, public facilities have closed, schools and universities have moved online and residents have stockpiled supplies in preparation for long stints indoors, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to practice social distancing, avoid public gatherings and restrict travel.

Bartenders, servers and other hourly workers have been hit hard as filings for unemployment have skyrocketed, and McMaster said during a Thursday press conference that he would expedite the approval process for unemployment benefits.

Horry County Schools has started a program to deliver food to kids who used to get lunch at the cafeteria before the pandemic forced the district to send kids home. 

Hospitals have imposed stringent visitor restrictions, and McMaster urged hospitals on Thursday to impose more visitor restrictions, and said DHEC would temporarily suspend certificate of need requirements to allow hospitals to add more hospital beds without going through a long and arduous approval process.

McMaster ordered that as of Friday, non-essential state employees must work from home, and department heads are in charge of determining which employees must come into the office.

Most local governments have declared localized states of emergencies to make them eligible for federal dollars in the aftermath of virus’ spread.

COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China in December, but China didn’t confirm its existence until January. The virus reached America in late January. 

The disease mainly targets the respiratory system, and while the virus can still hospitalize young people, older people with weaker immune systems are more susceptible and have a higher mortality rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged people to practice "social distancing," to restrict their travel and to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people in order to slow down the spread of the virus, which has an average incubation period of five days, but is some cases can last for several weeks. That means younger healthy people without severe symptoms can still transfer the virus to more susceptible populations who may require a hospital stay to survive. 

DHEC encourages people to wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their face and regularly clean high-use personal items.

COVID-19 positive tests by county, data courtesy of DHEC

Kershaw: 29 Positive

Richland: 8 Positive

Beaufort: 7 Positive

Greenville: 7 Positive

Horry: 6 Positive

Charleston: 5 Positive

Lexington: 5 Positive

Anderson: 3 Positive

Lancaster: 3 Positive

Abbeville: 1 Positive

Calhoun: 1 Positive

Dorchester: 1 Positive

Fairfield: 1 Positive

Lee: 1 Positive

Saluda: 1 Positive

Spartanburg: 1 Positive

York: 1 positive

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