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As COVID-19 cases rise steeply in Horry County, a pair of hospital ICUs are already full

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DHEC update

MYRTLE BEACH — With Horry County registering 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday — the second time in three days that the county had 111 in a day — and hospitals scrambling to keep up with the demand, the month of November has brought about further signs that the virus is gaining strength along the Grand Strand.

For the first time since July, Horry County had multiple days of more than 100 new cases in November, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In total, there were 1,948 cases in November, an average of 67.2 per day, surpassing October’s 55.2 per day. The latter was already more than double that of September, which had 23.8 new cases per day.

This has in turn taxed hospitals throughout Horry and Georgetown counties.

The ICUs at Tidelands Health — which operates the Waccamaw Community Hospital and Georgetown Memorial Hospital — are at 100 percent occupancy, while the hospitals are at 91 percent overall. With 18 COVID-19-positive inpatients, there are 10 patients in the ICU, with 6 on a ventilator, the latter representing 21 percent usage.

At Grand Strand Health, there are currently 29 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, with two in the ICU. According to a hospital spokesperson, hospital bed occupancy rate is at 94 percent. In November, GSH has seen weekly positive test rates as high as 12.4 percent (week of Nov. 14) and as low as 7.2 percent (week of Oct. 31).

While McLeod Health didn’t provide specific numbers on coronavirus-related hospitalizations, it did indicate “an uptick in COVID patients.”

“McLeod Health, like other healthcare organizations across the state and nation, is experiencing an uptick in COVID patients as predicted by the CDC as an outcome from a combination of factors including schools, fall activities, PPE fatigue, etc.,” said Jumana Swindler, McLeod Health’s public information officer.

“Hospital capacity and census statistics are fluid numbers that change frequently throughout the course of the day. As a health system of seven hospitals, we continue to experience higher volumes of patients both with COVID-19 and other medical conditions.”

According to DHEC, Georgetown County is at 70.5 percent hospital bed occupancy, while Horry County is at 81 percent.

Tidelands offers new treatment

While the numbers continue to rise, Tidelands Health announced Monday that it had been approved to administer a new COVID-19 treatment that aims to “lessen a patient’s risk of becoming hospitalized with the virus.”

Bamlanivimab, an investigational monoclonal antibody therapy, received an emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 9, and can be used in patients 12 and older.

The treatment, given intravenously, aims to aid those with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk for the virus to progress to a severe case or require hospitalization.

“Our team of caregivers at Tidelands Health is proud to be among the first in the state to provide this promising treatment to high-risk COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, the health system’s vice president of medical affairs. “This gives us another tool as we continue to battle COVID-19 on multiple fronts and work continuously to help patients recover from this virus.”

According to Tidelands, bamlanivimab is designed to “block the COVID-19 virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.”

In clinical trials, hospitalizations and ER visits happened in 3 percent of the bamlanivimab-treated patients, while in 10 percent of placebo-treated patients.

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“Bamlanivimab gives us another treatment option in our arsenal,” Dr. Harmon said.

K-12 schools update

As students returned to instruction on Monday after the Thanksgiving break, Horry County Schools and the Georgetown County School District maintained current plans, with both remaining in “hybrid.”

An HCS spokesperson said, “HCS will remain hybrid until further notice.”

Horry County is currently at a 302.5 incidence rate, which is 50 percent above the minimum threshold to be deemed “high.”

As part of the HCS return-to-school plan approved in August, this would have sent students and teachers into full-time remote learning. The district changed direction in October at the recommendation of Superintendent Rick Maxey, with the board of education approving his plan to make “hybrid” the permanent style of teaching for those in brick-and-mortar.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, HCS had 42 active COVID-19 cases (19 students, 23 staff), while 82 staff members were also in quarantine. HCS does not report students in quarantine. The HCS district office has seven active staff cases and 23 in quarantine.

HCS did indicate that the second-semester school options will be available to parents starting on Dec. 7 for those looking to move from HCS Virtual to brick-and-mortar instruction. Those planning to do the opposite can do that starting on Dec. 15.

In Georgetown, a district spokesperson said, “We are on our hybrid schedule this week at GCSD. As we have stated in our releases, a return to high does not necessarily mean a return to remote instruction.”

Currently, Georgetown County is considered to have a “moderate” incidence rate.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, the district had 14 active COVID-19 cases (five students, nine staff), while 78 are in quarantine (56 students, 22 staff).

Coastal Carolina update

The university had pre-planned to have students operate remotely after Thanksgiving break and students will not return to campus until Jan. 19.

In an update posted to its online COVID-19 dashboard on Monday, the university is reporting seven new cases, four students and three staff members.

CCU has 350 historical cases.

Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto. 

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