MYRTLE BEACH — With a trio of hospitals in both Horry and Georgetown counties now sitting 95 to 100 percent occupied as of Friday afternoon, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced an additional 113 positive COVID-19 cases in Horry County, while Georgetown had its most since Aug. 21 with 21.
Horry County has seen three consecutive days above 100 cases, with Thursday representing the county’s worst day since July 21 with 143 new cases reported by DHEC.
On Saturday, another 153 cases were reported by DHEC, lifting the county's 7-day average to 103.1 new cases per day, the most since July 21-27.
The significant uptick in cases is being felt at local hospitals, with Tidelands Health currently at 99 percent capacity, with its ICU at 100 percent full.
The daily case increase has officials at Tidelands bracing for what could be coming.
“It’s an indicator of future hospitalizations. The case volume goes up, the hospitalizations don’t go up immediately, they go up a week or two after the case volume goes up,” said Gayle Resetar, chief operating officer at Tidelands Health.
“With this huge number of cases, I would expect that we are going to see continued increases in hospitalizations.”
They weren’t alone, as a Grand Strand Health spokesperson said that as of Friday, it had 36 COVID-19 patients, while hospital occupancy is at 95 percent.
Resetar indicated that Tidelands is roughly at 40 percent of the volume of COVID-19 inpatients as it saw in July, but said that as recently as just a few weeks ago, that number was at 15-20 percent.
She also pointed to the Thanksgiving holiday as something that medical personnel are all monitoring, with the impact of potential household spread normally showing between 7-10 days after the event.
Emphasizing the simple actions it takes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — masking, social distancing and washing your hands — Resetar warned another holiday could be a superspreader event.
“We don’t need to get to Christmas and go through the same thing,” Resetar said.
With hospital capacities a growing issue, Tidelands Health is also competing with hospitals around the country as traveling nurses are in high demand, with agencies providing the staffing for 12 to 15 weeks.
This has allowed Tidelands to continue to offer scheduled surgeries for medical conditions outside of COVID-19, something that Resetar believes is important, as pushing off needed medical treatment has led to an influx of current need to address chronic illnesses.
“We don’t want people to delay their care. We want people to be able to get the care they need,” Resetar said. “We think that has a downstream effect, too.”
But she admitted that all things are on the table if the influx in emergent patients continues to rise.
“Those are things that are considered when you get well beyond what you can accommodate,” Resetar said.
Resetar’s worst fear is that an active flu season being layered on top of COVID-19 inpatients could create an unmanageable situation, where hospitals simply wouldn’t be able to handle the demand of its community.
In a proactive move, Tidelands is hosting a mass flu vaccine event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pelican Stadium in Myrtle Beach, located at 1251 21st Ave. North. The vaccines are free of charge and Tidelands will have more than 2,000 vaccines on hand, an unprecedented move by the company.
For Resetar, getting the flu shot and following health protocols will be paramount to keeping the Grand Strand and Hammock Coast safe.
“There’s a great vaccine, and it’s called a mask,” Resetar said. “The spread is controllable.”
K-12 schools update
Horry County Schools saw 25 additional staff members enter quarantine since Monday, with 127 total, including 23 at the district office, an increase of four since the start of the work week.
The number of positive cases moved from 61 to 68 over the past five days, including 42 students and 26 staffers, with St. James Elementary School leading the way with 10 active cases, while an additional 11 staffers are in quarantine.
HCS does not report the number of students in quarantine.
Meanwhile, the Georgetown County School District reported 15 active cases on its dashboard, 8 with students and 7 with staff. In addition, 68 are in quarantine, 31 students and 37 staff.
Coastal Carolina update
With students remote for the remainder of the semester, CCU announced five new COVID-19 cases, including 2 students, 2 staff members and 1 affiliate of the campus.
There are four additional students in quarantine and one in isolation, while the campus’ overall case number rose to 355 since June 8.