By Ruben Lowman
Hospitalizations have been climbing in the area due to a sharp increase in patients being admitted who are infected with COVID-19, local medical systems have confirmed recently. There have also been some issues with staffing at hospitals along the Grand Strand as positive cases continue to increase.
As of press time the zip codes of North Myrtle Beach, Little River and Loris each have a little over 340 confirmed positive cases and around 2,100 estimated cases. This is a significant jump from last week, when the numbers were roughly 280 confirmed and 1,700 estimated for each jurisdiction. Longs has seen a smaller rise from those numbers to around 300 confirmed and 1,850 estimated.
“Right now, staffing is a concern with hospitals,” John Williams, director of Disaster Preparedness for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said. “Community spread is not exempt from healthcare workers. Many hospitals are curtailing their elective surgeries, their non-emergent surgeries, to allocate those team members throughout the hospital itself. Clinical care physicians said definitely, there is a strain.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has alerted local municipalities to rising hospital bed occupancy rates within Horry County as the area continues to experience a surge of positive coronavirus cases. According to their latest statistics over 85 percent of the hospital beds in the county are in use. This figure includes all patients and not just those who have COVID-19. An analysis of the data shows that out of nearly 700 hospital beds within the county, only one out of six are available at this time.
Grand Strand Medical Center, which recently announced that it would not be postponing elective surgeries to shift resources to those patients infected with coronavirus, has said that it has been operating at around 90 percent capacity over the past few weeks. GS Health officials say it is fairly common for the number to be this high during the summer because of the large amount of tourists that are typically vacationing here.
“The recent surge of COVID-19 patients is affecting all area hospitals,” Grand Strand Health Chief Executive Officer Mark Sims said. “As the area’s only level one trauma center, we have a responsibility to preserve resources and beds to treat the most severe injuries and illnesses. That is why we are working with our physicians to determine what new, non-emergent surgeries can be safely delayed.”
As of the time of writing there are around 50 patients at Grand Strand Medical Center who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to spokesperson Katie Maclay.
Up until June 6, the facility had a maximum of three positive cases per week, Maclay said. The total increased to double-digits the following week, and have sharply risen since then. The hospital also has about 30 beds that are not in use at the moment, as a result of changes to staffing and some of them being assigned specifically to treat COVID patients. The hospital says it currently has 30 beds not in operation. Some of those beds have been set aside specifically for COVID-19 patients, while others are due to staffing changes within the hospital.
Tidelands Health, which operates the Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Little River, reached out to the National Guard for help with staffing shortages amid several members being exposed to the virus and unable to work.
Tidelands Health Chief Operating Officer Gayle Resetar said the biggest reason for the strain was how sharp the number of hospitalizations increased in the area. “In June we had maybe three COVID patients positive in our hospitals and today we’re at 50-some patients in between our two hospitals. And so the challenge is that, that was just fast. It ramped up very, very fast.”
The hospital will be working with state officials at DHEC and the National Guard where necessary going forward.
Officials with McLeod Health stated that around 25 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus at their McLeod Seacoast facility in Little River.
In a statement they said that, “McLeod Health has taken appropriate measures to plan for increased volumes and create capacity within our healthcare system. Like many hospitals along the coast and throughout South Carolina, McLeod Health Seacoast and McLeod Health Loris are experiencing higher volumes during these peak summer weeks, and due to COVID-19 responsiveness. Our dedicated team of doctors, nurses and support staff are working to ensure our community has quality care during these unprecedented times. If we see an increase in emergency cases at our hospitals in Loris and Little River related to the bike rally, we have the capacity to transfer patients to our other facilities if needed. At McLeod Health, regardless of COVID-19 or a bike rally, we adjust our staffing based on volumes and plan accordingly.”
Rising hospitalizations in the area recently come as the latest data being released has shown that young people are responsible for a large share of positive tests and are seen as being potential spreaders of the virus to more vulnerable individuals.
“Since June 1 we’ve seen a 436.5 percent increase of newly reported COVID-19 cases in this 21 to 30 age group,” director of Public Health for DHEC Dr. Joan Duwve said. “and 42percent of all our COVID-19 cases have been reported within the past two weeks. Please think about that, nearly half of the COVID cases reported in the state of South Carolina occurred in the past two weeks, and think about what those numbers are going to look like two weeks from now.”
Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s epidemiologist, said this weekend that, “We continue to see more and more young people, especially those under 20, contracting and spreading COVID-19.” She said they were getting infected and exposing their parents and loved ones to risks that could easily be avoided by continuing to socially distance and wear masks when in public.
In reaction to the growing numbers among young people and addressing everyone, McLeod Health stated they “would like to remind you that COVID-19 can be transmitted quickly and easily – even by people who aren’t experiencing symptoms.
“Wear a mask. A mask can help stop the spread of the virus – especially in places where social distancing is difficult. Practice hand hygiene and social distancing. If we are to remain South Carolina Strong, we all have to do our part.”