As COVID numbers rise in S.C., hospitals eye bed space

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COLUMBIA (AP) — If South Carolina's coronavirus infection and hospitalization numbers continue rising at their current rates, hospitals will likely have to implement a medical surge plan to add 3,000 more beds for patients, the state hospital association said Monday.

Health officials in South Carolina announced 1,505 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths Monday, as the spread of the virus showed no sign of slowing after the July 4 holiday weekend.

"We were concerned before the weekend and remain concerned post-holiday, as anecdotal stories and observed behavior indicate that many continue to disregard important protective guidance," said Heather Woolwine, a spokeswoman for the Medical University of South Carolina.

South Carolina has now tallied 46,247 total reported cases and 819 deaths. The state has reported more than 1,200 confirmed cases daily for 12 days in a row.

Health officials also said Monday that patients who have tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19 currently occupy 1,260 beds in the state.

As of Monday morning, 7,377 total beds were in use across the state, with a 69% statewide hospital bed utilization rate.

The utilization rate has at times exceeded 75% since the start of the pandemic, and hospitals will initiate a bed surge plan developed by hospitals and government agencies if statewide bed utilization reaches 80%, said Schipp Ames, a spokesman for the South Carolina Hospital Association.

If current trends related to infections and hospitalizations continue, that surge plan is likely to be implemented, Ames said. The plan would add another 3,000 beds to the state, likely in locations such as hotels, closed hospitals and gymnasiums.

Some children's hospitals have already begun to admit adults to help make room for COVID-19 and other patients, the Post and Courier reported.

Hospitals remain concerned about potential shortages of PPE and other critical supplies, Ames said. They also still have issues accessing reagents to complete the testing process, he added.

More than 480,000 people have now been tested for COVID-19 in the state. Turnaround time for tests through the state laboratory usually averages 24 to 48 hours, but testing increases have now led to a one- to two-day delay in results, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. A DHEC spokesperson said private labs have a turnaround time of several days, but the state does not have specifics for those labs.

After South Carolina began lifting stay-at-home orders and allowing businesses to reopen earlier this year, state leaders have indicated they will not shut down the state again and emphasized that people need to take personal responsibility to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We've had the choice in front of us for weeks since the lockdown was lifted," Woolwine said. "For those individuals, businesses or organizations who haven't been taking this as seriously as they need to be, time is running out to act."

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.