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Lowcountry coronavirus testing organizers point to pressure on labs for delays in results
 07.29.20

Finding the best locations for getting rapid coronavirus test results in the Charleston area has been a gamble, and organizers are looking at backlogged labs as a possible reason.

While more coronavirus testing sites have come online, the wait times for results vary. Some residents have gotten results in less than 24 hours. Others have waited nearly two weeks. Testing organizers and providers point to the increased need and pressure on local labs as reasons for inconsistent wait times.

COVID-19 cases in South Carolina have risen dramatically over the past few weeks with the state health department routinely reporting more than 1,000 cases a day.

Doctors Care has several urgent health facilities scattered throughout South Carolina. They offer antibody testing at all of their locations and five drive-thru and curbside diagnostic testing sites.

“Our organization has been working hard to support statewide efforts since mid-March, and we couldn’t be more proud of our employees,” said Jill Armbruster, a spokeswoman for Doctors Care.

If a patient wants to receive testing through the company, they do so by going through an online appointment and scheduling a swab test at one of their coronavirus testing sites. Armbruster said the organization has a rapid testing supply that allows some patients to get their positive or negative results the same day.

But those rapid tests are limited. When they run out, Armbruster said, they reach out to outside labs for processing.

“Due to unprecedented volumes at all labs right now, these results are taking significantly longer to return,” she said.

So patients can go from seeing results the same day to waiting more than a week for answers on their status. As testing increases, many labs have started to become overloaded with processing results. This has meant longer wait times for patients.

Not all testing events have had this problem. The city of Hanahan Fire and EMS Department recently organized free drive-thru testing. Some residents have complimented the events for quick results.

Michael Bargeron, assistant chief, said they’ve been able to get people results in 24 hours in some cases. They decided to start helping with testing after the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reached out to the department about a partnership. They also saw there was an increased need.

In their first event, they were seeing 80 cars an hour. By the second event, there were around 130 an hour. They would tell residents that testing would start at 10 a.m., but by 8 a.m., cars were already lining up at their headquarters.

“We’re public servants and the public had a direct need,” he said. “We just made ourselves useful to help.”

Bargeron said the partnership with DHEC is why they’ve been able to get some results back to people quickly. The health department provided Bargeron and his colleagues training on how to do testing themselves.

During the free events, the department would turn over the swab samples to DHEC. Bargeron said the agency would then strategically send samples to different labs so that one location didn’t get backlogged and cause delays.

He advises other emergency departments in the area to network with DHEC about doing free testing. South Carolina residents can look at DHEC’s testing schedule online to find location s. Bargeron and his team are hoping to organize more free drive-thru testing events in August and September. They’ll continue to do it as long as the need is still there.

A surprising need

Dr. Reshma Khan, executive director of the Shifa Free Clinic in Mount Pleasant, was skeptical about organizing free COVID-19 testing when a Florida lab reached out to her about a partnership.

“I thought it was so freely available,” she said. “I didn’t realize there was a big need.”

Lab 24 in Florida reached out to her about doing free testing since they it recently acquired federal funding to do so. She agreed to offer a small amount of testing at the Shifa Free Clinic since she didn’t think it was popular.

It asked her to do 50 tests. Khan thought 25 would be better. Lab 24 sent her 100 testing kits just in case. The moment she put out advertising about testing, they were booked in two days. They ended up doing 72 tests in their first event.

They offered testing two more times after that with similar results. Lab 24 eventually asked for the clinic’s help in organizing a larger event with 1,000 tests where the lab would send workers to the Charleston area. Khan said she agreed.

“I thought it was going to be less of a burden on our local labs as well,” she said.

But Lab 24 has become overloaded with testing since it also has organized events in other states. So results have been delayed for a lot of people. Her staff also has to make time to notify people about their results while managing their work at the clinic.

Khan said people have had to wait 10 days to get results in some cases. At that point, getting results are almost pointless, she said. If residents want faster results, then they’ll likely have to pay for it.

But Khan said ICNA Relief, the national organization that supports facilities like the Shifa Free Clinic, is looking to use national funds to collaborate with a lab to help with rapid testing. More testing is likely going to be needed with COVID-19 being everywhere, she said.

“It’s really hard to run away from it,” she said.

Reach Jerrel Floyd at 843-937-5558. Follow him on Twitter @jfloyd134.


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Charleston Reservists assist with upcoming SpaceX launch
 07.23.20

Two Airman from the 315th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina worked with approximately 50 others to move a satellite that will be launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

The two Airmen are both loadmasters with the 701st Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, and helped facilitate the move of a Lockheed Martin GPS III SV04 satellite after it was brought in via a C-17 Globemaster III from Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.

“Opportunities like this really do challenge you and make you better at your craft,” said Master Sgt. Thomas McGee, instructor loadmaster, 701st Airlift Squadron. “On a mission like this, everything that you have learned and experienced is applied.”

The new GPS III SV04 will be “three times more accurate than the current satellite, the signals will be more powerful, and up to eight times improved jamming resistance and availability for critical missions worldwide.” according to Lockheed Martin.

The two were chosen for the mission because of their experience and skill. McGee was one of the senior military members on the mission and assisted with the unloading of the satellite and the uploading of the container that it was shipped in back into a C-17.

This was the fourth and final movement of the satellite and it was moved in record timing, according to McGee.

“We were able to move the satellite in under two hours, verse the previous move which took nearly six hours,” said McGee. “With hard work, implementation of our training, and the opportunity to make ourselves better, we accomplished a difficult task in record time.”

The satellite, which narrowly fit into the C-17, was moved using a system of winches down to a site where it will be outfitted onto a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket near a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.

The satellite is scheduled to be launched into space on Aug. 1.


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The South Carolina Seven expedition tours state's seven wonders
 07.22.20

from page A1

I followed the South Carolina 7 expedition during its first five days as the trek made its way over mountain lands in the Jocassee Gorges owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

Greg Lucas

Day 3 (July 3) was a walk to the top of Sassafras Mountain, billed as the “Roof of the Palmetto State,” since it is the highest point in South Carolina at 3,553 feet above sea level.

The hike to summit Sassafras Mountain in northern Pickens County was taken on the Foothills Trail, a 77-mile footpath running between Table Rock and Oconee state parks.

The hike began at Chimneytop Gap on the Foothills Trail, which is 2.7 miles below the top of Sassafras. And as most of the group of 25 or so discovered during the next couple of hours, most of that 2.7 miles is UPHILL, since we are heading, after all, to the highest point in South Carolina.

Heyward Douglass, executive director of the Foothills Trail Conservancy (www.foothillstrail.org), walked at the front of the pack with expedition leader Tom Mullikin.

Douglass, in addition to being a great cheerleader for the Foothills Trail, is also a serious naturalist. He pointed out the stunning pink-and-white wildflowers of rosebay rhododendron, demonstrated the spearmint-deliciousness of a sweet birch, and had hikers listening intently for the high-pitched zee-zee-zee-zee-ZEET call of the black-throated green warbler, which conveniently happened to be migrating through from South America.

After a mile or so of uphill hiking, the group was glad to take a break when it arrived at the locally famous landmark Teeter-Totter Rock. Douglass had one of younger members of the party climb on top of the rock and jump up and down, which actually does cause the rock to begin swaying back and forth slightly, thus the “Teeter-Totter” name.

As we got closer to the Sassafras Mountain Overlook, we heard overhead an unusual buzzing noise, which turned out to be a drone that is helping to film the expedition. Soon we emerged from a rhododendron tunnel and into the clearing around the overlook. The intrepid hikers were met by a crowd that had already gathered to take in the breathtaking view of surrounding mountain peaks in North Carolina and Georgia from the highest point in South Carolina.

Lieutenant Governor Pamela S. Evette of Travelers Rest, who helped kick off South Carolina 7 at Oconee State Park on July 1, stood on top of the overlook with Mullikin and perhaps best summed up the uniquely Palmetto State expedition.

“It’s like God’s medicine,” she said, “coming out here and breathing fresh air, Vitamin D is healthy for everybody, and you can social distance on the trail. These are not crowded spaces, and these are beautiful places to bring your family and enjoy your time together.”

SCDNR is one of many partners in the South Carolina 7 Expedition, some of the others being South Carolina State Parks, Palmetto Trail and South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.

The mission of South Carolina 7, according to Mullikin, is 1) to raise awareness of floodwater prevention across South Carolina; and 2) to engage leaders and citizens in the protection and enjoyment of South Carolina’s natural resources.

“Having traveled and been awed by the length and breadth of this amazing planet for most of my adult life, I am never far from my first love, South Carolina,” Mullikin wrote in a recent edition of South Carolina Wild. “Her internationally celebrated natural beauty, wild treasures and resources all are so remarkably accessible to every day-hiker and adventure traveler regardless of global starting point.”

As a means of showcasing the state’s treasures, lawyer, conservationist and world explorer Mullikin put together the 30-day South Carolina 7 Expedition, running from the mountains to the sea, roughly (but not exactly) following the route of the Palmetto Trail (palmettoconservation.org.)


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CEO of SC's largest electric co-op set to step down
 07.23.20

from page A1

The chief executive officer of Berkeley Electric Cooperative is preparing to step down after heading up the rural power supplier for more than eight years.

Dwayne Cartwright, who plans to retire in September, said he would leave South Carolina’s largest electric co-op after his replacement is chosen by the member-owned organization’s board of directors.

As CEO, Cartwright has overseen a dramatic expansion of the 80-year-old utility’s members in its service territory, which spans parts of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

When he arrived in October 2012, the Moncks Corner-based co-op had roughly 85,000 members — what it calls customers — but that number grew to more than 100,000 and 5,000 miles of lines as residential, commercial and industrial development boomed throughout the region.

Averaging nearly 350 new electric customers per month, Berkeley is now one of the fastest-growing electric cooperatives in the country.

Cartwright, who previously worked in other states including Texas, North Dakota and Missouri, said he believes Berkeley Electric is prepared to handle any future expansions.

“We’re set for the growth,” he said. “We’ve been at it now for seven or eight years.”

The bigger issue his successor will have to address, Cartwright said, is the co-op’s power supply.

South Carolina’s 19 local electric cooperatives currently buy their power from either state-run Santee Cooper or Charlotte-based Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Cartwright said Berkeley Electric, and the other co-ops in the state, need to figure how to make that electricity more affordable. He expects that will happen through an expansion of renewable energy sources and natural gas.

“If we are going to remain competitive, we need to supply affordable, reliable energy for our members,” he said.

Cartwight announced his retirement in a column he wrote for the July edition of Berkeley Electric’s South Carolina Living magazine. He noted that his time as CEO included “some real challenges, especially from Mother Nature,” as well as the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, “renewed legislative oversight and a global pandemic to cap it all off.”

He and his wife plan to return to their home state of Missouri to be closer to their family.

The Berkeley Electric board is conducting a national search for its next CEO, Cartwright said.

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.