MYRTLE BEACH — With Christmas Day bringing about the largest single-day number of new COVID-19 cases since July 4 with 260, Horry County is potentially tracking to experience its worst month since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
With 3,596 cases in December (133.2 per-day average), the county is quickly approaching its record set in July with 4,402 cases (142 per-day average), according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
There are four measurable days remaining in December, as DHEC is operating on a two-day delay in reporting updates.
Horry County’s seven-day average is 160.9 new cases per day, including 137 announced by DHEC on Tuesday.
The county’s positive test rate on Monday was 28.5 percent (6,090 tests administered) and 22.3 percent over the prior seven days (115,584 tests).
Hospitals along the Grand Strand and Hammock Coast are feeling the brunt of the increase — with the last two weeks in Horry County having brought 2,125 cases, which is 177 more cases than all of November in the county.
At Tidelands Health's Waccamaw Community Hospital and Georgetown Memorial, there were 59 COVID-19 inpatients as of Tuesday afternoon and the overall hospital is at 103 percent capacity. The number of COVID-19 inpatients in the ICU is at 13, with the overall ICU at 113 percent capacity.
Tidelands had a record 65 COVID-19 inpatients on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Conway Medical Center had 35 COVID-19 inpatients as of Monday afternoon, with 12 in the ICU.
Dr. Paul Richardson, CMC’s vice president of medical affairs, says that while the number might be in the mid-30s, it’s about the rising averages the facility is experiencing.
“Our numbers are what I’d call going steadily upward. Before, the daily average of COVID inpatients was in the mid 20s, then the low 30s and now we are in the mid 30s,” Richardson said.
“And, in my professional opinion, we are still mopping up Thanksgiving, we haven’t gotten into the hospitalizations that will come from Christmas.”
A day after the city of Myrtle Beach closed its utility billing office through Tuesday due to COVID-19 exposure among the staff members and a Horry County treasurer’s office in Little River moved to drive-thru only due to staffing limitations brought about by virus exposure, the county is feeling the uptick in cases at all levels.
On Tuesday, an Horry County Government newsletter announced that the Bucksport Library in Conway would be closed at least until Jan. 4 due to COVID-19 cases and exposure.
It wasn’t lost on Richardson that his social media feeds were filled with people gathering with their families and looking for things to do in the area over this past holiday weekend.
“There were get-togethers and parties galore, all over the area,” Richardson said. “I wanted to get together with my folks, too, and I understand the desire to do that. But I think we are going to pay the consequences for that.”
Horry County isn’t alone in dramatic COVID-19 spikes, as Georgetown County has already more than doubled its total from all of November, sitting at 574 cases currently, an average of 21.3 cases per day. In November, the county averaged 9 cases per day.
Georgetown County had a positive test rate of 24.4 percent (57 tests) on Monday, with a seven-day average of 23.9 percent (1,329 tests).
As of Monday, the county has an incidence rate of 645, more than triple what DHEC considers to be “high.”
Across both counties, hospital facilities are struggling to keep the appropriate number of nurses to take care of the influx in patients. While not an issue specific to the area, it most certainly impacts how local facilities can operate.
“Fatigue has set in, there is no doubt about it,” Richardson said. “But the one thing the community can do to help us get this under control is to not get COVID. You do that by following guidelines. Wear the mask, social distance, wash your hands.
“This isn’t about medical sense, this is common sense.”