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VA workers protest as state logs 10 new deaths, total 330 coronavirus fatalities

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South Carolina logged an additional 168 known coronavirus cases and 10 patient deaths on Saturday, bringing the state to a total of 7,531 positive tests and 330 deaths.

In Columbia, about 30 VA health care workers and supporters — mirroring protests at Veteran's Affairs hospitals across around the county — gathered outside Dorn VA Medical Center decrying a shortage of personal protective equipment and lack of hazard pay for staff.

Johnny Allen, executive vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees local union chapter at Dorn, stood on the street corner wearing a yellow disposable medical mask — the same mask he said he's been told to wear for a week straight while conducting recreational therapy with patients at the center.

He said while he doesn't treat COVID-19 patients directly, he hasn't seen doctors or nurses being supplied with plastic face shields common in other hospitals and said administrators aren't handing out the more protective N95 masks as they should.

"When you work on the front lines you're putting yourself at risk every day," the 33-year VA employee and Army veteran said.

Allen said the national protests have drawn attention to the issues, but he thinks the administration waited too long to act and he said equipment is still lacking.

"They're just now finally acting like they're trying to do something," he said.

The VA has made statements standing behind its efforts to date, highlighting the use of telemedicine and over-the-phone services to cut back on the number of patients coming to centers and limiting access to a single point of entrance.

Statewide, the most recent deaths include victims from Berkeley, Charleston, Clarendon, Fairfield, Greenville, Lexington, Richland and Williamsburg counties. Eight were elderly and two were middle-aged, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

As of Saturday morning, 461 coronavirus patients were hospitalized statewide. Through Friday, 80,963 people had been tested for COVID-19 in South Carolina.

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DHEC expects to confirm another 2,000 cases by May 23, and projections on the department's website indicate that over 1,100 people could die of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus by early August.

Charleston County buildings will reopen to the public between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. beginning Wednesday, and staff will return to the office on Monday. The county encourages the public to use online services when possible.

The Register of Deeds offices in Charleston County will accept up to five documents per visitor. Requests and documents can be dropped off throughout normal business hours, with no limit on the number.

Clerk of Court staff will be available by phone and email from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but family court purge payments and emergency filings must be submitted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Probate court will begin accepting documents through the drop box in the lobby at 85 Broad Street beginning Wednesday, but will continue accepting mailed filings. Will and estate filings can be sent to 84 Broad Street, and filings for guardianship, marriage licenses, commitment proceedings, problem solving courts and conservator and trusts can be sent to 100 Broad Street.

For emergency estate proceedings, contact Alison Atwood at 843-958-5031; for emergency guardianship and conservatorship proceedings, call Elizabeth Sykes at 843-958-5187.

Residents can apply for marriage licenses online and attend a virtual estate workshop with Judge Irvin Condon.

To request a ballot for absentee voting, which will begin Monday, email or call 843-744-8683.

Jessica Holdman contributed to this report.

Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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