With 193 COVID-19 cases in the Myrtle Beach area and the rapid spread of the Delta variant, several local hospitals have adopted new containment measures.
The variant, which is more transmissible, accounts for around 90% of new COVID cases in South Carolina and nationwide.
Tidelands Health is limiting visitation at its Myrtle Beach locations.
“We’ve reached a point with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in our region that we must take these additional precautions to protect our patients, team members and community,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “We appreciate the community’s understanding as we all double down on our efforts to stop this virus from spreading.”
Those in isolation for COVID-19 may no longer receive a visitor with the exception of end-of-life circumstances.
Visitors are also no longer allowed in the emergency ward unless staff makes an exception for extra support or assistance.
Grand Strand Medical Center has similarly limited patients to one visitor and restored social distancing requirements.
According to the New York Times, Horry County has the second-highest daily case average per 100,000 people in South Carolina, making the region one of the most susceptible to COVID-19 in the state. The Times graphic also shows that over three-quarters of all seniors are fully-vaccinated, compared to just half of all adults.
Horry County hospitals currently have an 88.5% occupancy rate, showing how full most hospitals are even without high COVID numbers. Of the almost 700 hospital beds, 617 are occupied, 55 with COVID patients.
In both hospitals, COVID cases rose after July 4.
"Nationally, we hit a low around June 22 and then we saw that increase,” said Dr. George Helmrich, chief medical officer at Grand Strand Health. “We knew we would see an increase with July 4 with travelers. We had gotten down to two in-patients before the holiday. It has steadily increased since then.”
Harmon said Tidelands currently has eight COVID patients in the intensive care unit, with three patients on ventilators.
The majority of COVID patients were unvaccinated, with Harmon estimating 90% in his hospital and Helmrich estimating 99%.
“Most vaccinated patients don’t get admitted to the hospital because they don’t get sick enough,” Harmon said. “It makes a big difference in the infectivity and severity.”
Both doctors said that most patients are younger and unvaccinated, attributing the infections to a mixture of both.
Neither Harmon nor Helmrich thought hospital occupancy would reach 2020 levels.
“We are getting stretched, but we’re not putting ICU patients in the emergency room like in summer 2020 when we had 70-80 COVID patients,” Harmon said.
Still, both implored people to get vaccinated.
“The most important message is 99% of people getting it are not vaccinated,” Helmrich said. “It is not too late to get vaccinated.”