'Please, please, please help us.': Prisma says COVID-19 patients straining hospitals, nearing capacity across system


They say last week's already dire COVID-19 situation inside hospitals serving half the state is worse now. And they're begging people to take action.

Prisma Health hospitals, spanning Sumter, the Midlands and the Upstate, are nearing capacity. Numbers are rising across all categories. A deadly concoction of prolonged vaccine hesitancy despite full FDA approval for Pfizer's shot, a statewide 3,500-nurse deficit and a trend of younger, healthier people getting sicker from the virus, requiring more resources and taking longer to either recover or die, is putting hospitals almost to the point where people will be triaged for the ICU. If things don't get better, they said Friday, not everyone needing an ICU bed will get one.

It's enough to make a doctor plead.

"Please help us help you. Please trust us," said Dr. Wendell James, chief clinical officer and COVID-19 incident command lead for Prisma Health in the Upstate, during a media briefing Friday.

South Carolina became No. 1 in something this week. The Palmetto State currently has the most infections per capita of any state in the nation. During the last two weeks, known cases have increased by 57%, James said. The current rate of rise is faster than the previous two surges.

"Every day we see the numbers grow, and the percentages are astronomically skewed to trend toward the unvaccinated," he said.

Prisma notched 500 patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday, 453 of whom are unvaccinated. Of the 116 in the ICU, only 10 have taken a vaccine shot. Vaccinated patients account for only six of the 68 on ventilators.

The majority of admissions are between the ages of 40 and 60, James said, though Prisma's pediatric ICUs are also full.

Dr. Caughman Taylor, a pediatrician and senior medical director of Prisma Health Children's Hospital in the Midlands, said their PICU on Friday had more children on ventilators and the highest ICU admissions since the pandemic began. On Thursday, a record 15 children were in the Midlands PICU. About half were unvaccinated because they are under 12 and not eligible for a shot. All the others were over 12 but unvaccinated.

With children's ICU beds full, they've had to hold spillover patients in the regular emergency department until a bed becomes available. That Midlands PICU has been at 100% capacity for five weeks.

"This is real. It's hitting children extremely hard and causing a lot of unnecessary illness," Taylor said. "Please, please, please help us."

Less than half of eligible South Carolinians are fully vaccinated, though 57% have now received at least one dose, according to The Associated Press.

Sumter County remains with the fourth-lowest rate of residents who have completed vaccination, according to state public health data. About 49% of the county eligible to get a shot has received at least one.


There is talk of both a third vaccine and a booster shot swirling, and Prisma doctors want to clear up misinformation about them. They are separate. The third vaccine is available. The booster is not.

A third vaccine was authorized last month on emergency use by the FDA for both the Pfizer and Moderna shots in people who are immunocompromised and have received two shots.

You do not have to prove you are immunocompromised or have a doctor's note, according to Prisma's Dr. Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease physician, and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

On the other hand, the process of approving a booster shot for the general population will see a milestone on Sept. 17 when it is discussed by the FDA.

The general proposal is a booster is needed after eight months of an initial mRNA vaccination, which is Pfizer and Moderna, because studies are showing antibodies are declining after that period.