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SC public health officials announce 45 new coronavirus cases, 2 deaths


Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg gives an update on the city's response to coronavirus during a press conference Friday, March 20, 2020. Brad Nettles/Staff

South Carolina public health officials announced 45 new cases of coronavirus and two deaths, including a patient from Charleston County, on Friday. 

As of the last update, there were 125 cases in 25 counties across the state, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. There have been three deaths so far related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. 

“Sadly, our state has suffered the loss of two of our own,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist. “In the case of both deaths, the patients had recently been reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On behalf of all South Carolinians, we want to express our deepest sympathy for the families and loved ones of these two individuals.”

Of the two patients who officials confirmed died on Friday, both were elderly, state officials said. One was from Florence County and the other was a resident of Harmony Assisted Living Facility in West Ashley. 

Both patients had underlying health conditions, officials said. 

On Twitter, Gov. Henry McMaster asked the public to join him in praying for the patients' families and implored residents to take the expanding pandemic seriously. 

"The time is now for everyone to take this situation seriously and to follow the instructions of national and state officials," McMaster said. "Voluntary action and precaution NOW will save the lives of many."

That message has been reiterated by Bell and other public health officials. 

"The public needs to take our recommendations to prevent spread seriously so we can best protect our family, friends and neighbors,” she said. “Unfortunately, these case numbers will continue to increase."

DHEC is working "around the clock" to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, she said. 

As the number of cases rises, institutions are closing locations and canceling events in hopes of slowing COVID-19's spread.

Officials with Roper St. Francis Healthcare confirmed Friday that a fifth patient had tested positive for the illness. 

The patient used Roper's Telehealth screening system and was identified as a candidate for further testing, officials said. Their COVID-19 test results came back positive Friday afternoon and the patient is quarantined at home. 

Among the limitations on gatherings is Lexington Medical Center's ban on most visitors, which went into effect Friday morning.

A single adult visitor may be present for patients in the obstetrics, pediatrics, newborn and special-care nursery units, and for any end-of-life cases, the hospital said.

No patients suspected of having COVID-19 will be allowed to have visitors.

Meanwhile, a Marine stationed at a base in Beaufort has tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the second case at a military installation in the Palmetto State.

The service member is connected to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday after returning from leave in California, according to a statement from the base. 

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"As directed by healthcare professionals, the Marine is in isolation at their residence and will receive follow-on medical assessment," according to the statement.

Service members have been working to get U.S. citizens stuck abroad back home. 

The Air Force flew members of a women's football team back to the states from Honduras, according to a tweet by the U.S. Southern Command. The team was flown on two flights to Joint Base Charleston. 

Sullivan's Island town officials voted to restrict beach access. According to an ordinance, the beach will be closed to residents and visitors from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day until May 21, unless the order is withdrawn by town officials. 

McMaster said Friday afternoon he's asked the State Law Enforcement Division and local police agencies to "disperse crowds" on beaches. Many beaches had already restricted public access.

The Charleston County Public Library said on Friday morning it would be unable to reopen branches on March 31, as initially planned. Libraries will remain closed indefinitely, while waiving late fines and expanding online services.

“We are taking this day-by-day and evaluating our operational capacity while children are out of school and as CDC guidelines continue evolving," Director Angela Craig said in a statement. "As soon as we are ready to reopen our doors, we will announce the date.”

Charleston City Market

William Marscher of James Island walks his dog through an empty Charleston City Market on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Marscher said he got bored walking through his neighborhood and decided to come downtown. On Wednesday, the market was full of vendors, but that changed by Thursday. Brad Nettles/Staff

Several Charleston County parks were shuttered overnight and the Park and Recreation Commission canceled all programs until May 10.

The closures include Caw Caw Interpretive Center, Folly Beach County Park, Folly Beach Pier, Isle of Palms County Park, James Island County Park, Johns Island County Park, Kiawah Beachwalker Park, McLeod Plantation Historic Site, the Mount Pleasant Pier, Palmetto Islands County Park, SK8 Charleston and Wannamaker County Park.

The city of Charleston suspended many nonessential services, including pickup for curbside debris. It will run rubbish collection as usual, and the county will continue recycling collections.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the city has taken a number of significant steps since the coronavirus threat resonated in China and Italy.

He said some city personnel will be reassigned to address needs and the City Council is considering a bridge loan proposal for small businesses that have had to shut down because of coronavirus.

Tecklenburg urges residents to stay home and limit trips out; if you develop symptoms, self-quarantine and get on lists with hospitals for testing; and don't hoard groceries.

“There is no circumstance we foresee to close grocery stores,” Tecklenburg said.

Next week, trash that goes in green trash bins will be collected. Bulky items and tree clippings will not be picked up.

In Columbia, City Council members approved a $6 million economic plan they hope will help small businesses and nonprofits and bolster public safety. 

Gregory Yee contributed to this report. Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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