Masks are working, S.C. health leaders say


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Earlier this month, McLeod Health Clarendon's labor and delivery unit closed for a few days but has since resumed normal operations.

Hospital Administrator Rachel Gainey said expectant mothers who were 36 weeks pregnant or more were notified, and those who went into labor were transferred to other McLeod Health system facilities.

"Like many hospitals in South Carolina, McLeod Health Clarendon has experienced higher volumes due to COVID-19 and other health conditions," Gainey said.

She said volume numbers fluctuate daily but that the hospital has plans in place to respond to higher patient volume, including adjusting staffing and clearing more bed space.

DHEC's new data indicate those statements.

According to the state agency, Clarendon County has the highest percent - 16.2% - of cases that have required hospitalization.

Of them, 69.1% are Black, and the age group with the largest percentage of hospitalizations - 25.9% - is 71-80.

However, McLeod Health Clarendon Chief Medical Officer Dr. Catherine Rabon said current patients are increasingly middle-aged adults with underlying health conditions as opposed to older adults.

Rabon said the biggest increase in COVID-19 patients at the Manning hospital was in mid-July and that they are seeing a current decline in hospitalizations because of the virus.

Staff are feeling the strain of the surge.

"This is a marathon and not a sprint. These challenging times both professionally and personally have strained our team members like the rest of our world. We continually provide support in a variety of ways as we navigate this pandemic. Our belief is that we are better together," Rabon said.

She said the staff's biggest need right now is for the community to be educated on the "importance of following the guidance from the CDC."

Wear a mask, she said. Rabon and health care professionals across the world have urged mask use to help stop the virus' spread, "especially in places where social distancing is difficult."

"The mask helps prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air onto others when we cough, sneeze or talk," she said.

Exceptions for not wearing a mask, she said, are for children under the age of 2, anyone who has chronic breathing issues or those who cannot remove a mask without assistance.

"They may be uncomfortable and a disruption to our daily routines, but wearing a mask is a small inconvenience that can make a big impact in our fight against this virus," she said.

New data released Wednesday indicate local mask ordinances are helping to slow the spread.

DHEC reported through an analysis of S.C. Emergency Management Division information that as of this week, nearly 40% of residents, about 2 million South Carolinians, live where a local mask ordinance is in place. The areas that have mask ordinances in place have shown a 46.3% greater decrease in the total number of cases during the four weeks after the requirements were implemented.

"We will be in a much better position in four to six weeks if South Carolinians practice physical distancing and use a mask," said Dr. Linda Bell, the state's head epidemiologist.

In Sumter County, cases began to spike around June 10, with the peak being July 14-22. The City of Sumter initiated a mask mandate starting July 3. Current daily case numbers are approaching early June numbers.

While daily case numbers show Sumter declining along with the state, the new DHEC data show the county is also testing at one of the five lowest rates in the state. Disease activity information current as of Monday show Sumter has the highest percentage of tests coming back positive in the state at 41.8%.

Statewide on Wednesday, the positive test rate was 19.6%.

DHEC announced 712 new cases and 45 deaths Wednesday, including a middle-aged adult each from Clarendon County and Lee County and an elderly adult from Sumter County. It was the third day in a row less than 1,000 cases were reported and the fourth under such milestone since June 22.