MYRTLE BEACH — Not even a week removed from hope being established inside the walls of Tidelands Health’s Waccamaw Community Hospital due to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine being administered, Tuesday morning brought about sobering news.
The hospital, alongside its sister facility at Georgetown Memorial, had 62 COVID-19 inpatients, setting a new daily record for the number of concurrent cases since the pandemic began in March.
Tidelands Health indicated that 16 of those patients were in the ICU, with 11 on a ventilator. Overall, the two hospitals are at 108 percent capacity, with their ICUs at 125 percent capacity.
More than 33 percent of all hospital inpatients were due to COVID-19.
While the vaccine has brought along hope, Gayle Resetar, the chief operations officer with Tidelands, says that the community cannot get complacent about masking and social distancing.
“This is not rocket science, there is a lot of great science that suggests that we are really controlling the spread of the virus when we wear a mask and social distance,” Resetar said. “We also know that 10 percent of those that get COVID will be hospitalized.
“That means for every 10 people that get COVID at some big dinner, one will be hospitalized. Those are just big numbers. These are your family members, your loved ones, friends, that are getting hospitalized. We are out of control again.”
On Tuesday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 125 new COVID-19 cases in Horry County and 28 in Georgetown County.
Horry County is averaging 123.3 new cases per day in December, while Georgetown has seen its daily average balloon to 20.8, more than double what it was in November.
Tidelands Health isn’t alone in its concern about the current conditions within the area’s hospitals, with Dr. Paul Richardson, Conway Medical Center’s vice president of medical affairs, specifically pointing to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays as a potential public health threat.
“We’re moving away from the impacts of Thanksgiving, and now, I’m scared to say, closer to Christmas. In my professional opinion, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Richardson, who indicated that CMC has 30 COVID-positive inpatients, with 7 in the ICU and 1 on a ventilator.
The Horry County Council has voted against a mask mandate for the county, something that both Resetar and Richardson indicated that has been an obstacle in maintaining the low numbers both facilities saw in September and October, when both had single-digit COVID-19 inpatients on multiple days.
Richardson says he is also tired of wearing masks and avoiding crowds — he hasn’t eaten inside a restaurant since March 10, 2020 — but now is the time to “put our foot on the gas with masking, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding those crowds.”
He pointed to data that shows that after every major holiday, cases spike and hospitalizations rise.
“Contrary to what people would like to quote, the science is there. The common sense is there,” Richardson said. “Some people say masks aren’t 100 percent. Seat belts aren’t 100 percent, but we mandate them. And I use mine, if it reduces my risk of death by 10 percent, I’m down with that.
“So that logic doesn’t hold, seat belts are a prime example, people die when they have their seat belts on, but we know it lowers the risk.”
Resetar says that Tidelands Health is well beyond its financial budget, as properly staffing during a global pandemic is a moving target, compounded by obstacles that stem from the nationwide demand for roving nurses and the agencies that deploy them.
Nurses that come in from outside the area via a staffing agency have used the holidays to be with family or are choosing different areas of the country.
In turn, Tidelands Health has utilized incentives for current staffers to work extra shifts and overtime, while also shifting nurses from areas that normally don’t handle daily inpatients.
“The cost per hour of nursing care has gone up, the agency costs have gone up,” Resetar said. “To staff the facilities is much more expensive that it would normally be — by a long shot.
“We are paying premiums, just like if you wanted someone to paint your house 24/7 to get it done really fast, it would be a premium. When you need a lot of extra people, in a short amount of time, and you’ve got a lot of holes that you got to fill, it’s just a premium.”
Richardson calls the frontline workers his “superheroes,” but says that the community is in control of how the demand for their attention will look after the holidays — and it comes down to debunking that masking and social distancing aren’t necessary.
“We have to separate elimination from reduction. None of these things are going to eliminate getting COVID,” Richardson said. “So then you are dealing with reduction through masking, social distancing, hand-washing.
“Tons of things that we do every day that don’t provide 100 percent protection, but we still do them.”