South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, Sept. 3, 2021


The (Charleston) Post and Courier

Aug. 30

We're back to trying to protect hospitals from collapse

The blessing about COVID-19 is that most people who get infected don't get very sick. Many - perhaps most - don't even realize they have it, unless they happen to take a test.

So people who think we're overreacting to the pandemic have a legitimate point when they say we shouldn't get so worked up over the number of positive tests. Part of the reason those numbers are going up so much - and are so much higher than they were last summer - could be the fact that testing is so much more easily available and more frequently required.

The number and percent of positive tests do tell us how prevalent the virus is in our communities, and therefore how much more or less likely any of us are to get infected, but the most important metrics always have been how many people are hospitalized and how many are dying.

And if you're looking at the pandemic from a strictly hard-nosed, pragmatic perspective - setting aside the costs in human suffering and lost lives - the number of hospitalizations is the more important of the two. After all, the reason we put the economy on ice last spring wasn't to save lives. It was to slow the spread of the virus enough that our hospital system wouldn't collapse.

From that perspective, it's time for South Carolina to get worried.

The Post and Courier's Jessica Holdman reports that as of Friday, the state's largest hospital system, Prisma Health, was treating 464 COVID-19 patients, just 82 short of its peak in January and up 30 from the day before.

Lexington Medical Center went from four COVID-19 patients to 190 in six weeks, with 41 on ventilators; in order to accommodate the spiraling number of COVID-19 admissions, the hospital is starting to delay cancer biopsies and other surgeries that are deemed "elective" because the patient isn't at death's door. Still, few patients would consider such procedures as elective.

"We closed one of our surgery centers," chief medical officer Dr. Brent Powers said at a news conference with physicians from all the Columbia-area hospitals. "We are pulling nurses from administrative functions and are deploying them again in the patient care areas. We're pulling staff from our ambulatory offices and pulling them back into the hospital setting."

Dr. Kale Davis, chief of staff at MUSC Health Columbia, said 25% of that hospital's patients now have COVID-19. "There's never been a time in my career that I can recall when 25% of our hospital capacity was taken up by a single disease entity," he said.

The day before, physicians in the Upstate raised similar concerns about the speed with which their hospitals are filling up. It took Prisma 19 weeks to reach 304 COVID-19 patients statewide last year; this year, the number grew to 436 in just eight weeks. And it's still rising.

In addition to being far more contagious, the delta variant driving the new surge is also hitting children harder. While the percentage of infected children who get seriously sick remains minuscule, the number is not. The result is that pediatric hospitals that were able to make room for adult patients during the earlier COVID-19 surges are now looking for space for their young patients in adult hospitals.

The Post and Courier's Lauren Sausser reports that as of Wednesday, nearly three dozen children in South Carolina were hospitalized, and at least three were on ventilators. Add in a rising number of children hospitalized with other respiratory viruses that have found welcoming hosts since school started back without mask requirements, and the state's pediatric intensive care units are running between 71% to 100% of capacity, with some children having to wait in emergency departments for a bed.

And here's where those positive test numbers are worth looking at: Just as deaths surge a few weeks after a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, a hospitalizations surge follows a few weeks after a surge in infections. In the past couple of weeks, the rising number of infections has been nearly straight up - on Wednesday, DHEC recorded the third-highest number of new infections during the entire pandemic, at 6,697 - with nothing to indicate that it's going to break soon.

We don't need to shut down businesses or government again - although our schools are increasingly being forced to shut themselves down as the Legislature's no-mask-requirement law drives school infections and accompanying quarantines to record levels.

What we need is for more people to get vaccinated. And yes, we also need children masked up in schools, so they're able to keep attending in person. (The U.S. Education Department is investigating South Carolina and four other states over their bans on mask mandates in schools.)

If you haven't been vaccinated, please get vaccinated. If you know people who aren't vaccinated, please do whatever you can to convince them to g et vaccinated. Otherwise, the next time you need a hospital, it might not be there for you.

The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat

Aug. 30

Highway traveling poses big risk

Amid the ongoing debates surrounding pandemic issues such as vaccinations and masks, other threats to life remain real. In fact, the danger on the road has grown.

U.S. traffic deaths soared after coronavirus lockdowns ended in 2020, hitting the highest yearly total since 2007 as more Americans engaged in unsafe behavior on U.S. roads, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers as reported by Reuters.

For all of 2020, 38,680 people died on U.S. roads - up 7.2% or nearly 2,600 more than in 2019, even though Americans drove 13% fewer miles, preliminary data showed. The fatality rate hit 1.37 deaths per 100 million miles, the highest figure since 2006.

In the second half of 2020, the number of traffic deaths was up more than 13%.

South Carolina, annually a place with among the highest per-capita death rates in the nation, was no exception in the deadly trend.

Traffic deaths in 2020 increased to 1,065 from the 1,006 in 2019. Even worse, the situation has grown more deadly in 2021.

As of Aug. 26, the S.C. Department of Public Safety reported 654 fatal crashes, 77 more than a year ago, with fatalities totaling 706, 69 more than a year ago.

NHTSA says the main behaviors that have driven increases are impaired driving, speeding and failure to wear seat belts.

Deaths involving motorists not wearing seat belts were up 15%, speeding-related deaths jumped by 10%, and fatal crashes involving alcohol rose 9%.

"We intend to use all available tools to reverse these trends and reduce traffic fatalities and injuries," acting NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said.

In an open letter to drivers in January, NHTSA said "fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes. ... It's irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which not only puts your life at risk but the lives of others."

Not wearing seat belts is simply taking needless risk.

Of those killed in South Carolina in 2021 to date, 478 of the people had access to seat belts, but 236 were not wearing them. And in another 43 deaths, it is not known whether the person was belted. In just 189 of the 478 deaths can it be confirmed that shoulder and lap belts were being worn.

Seat belt facts per the NHTSA:

1. If you buckle up in the front seat of a passenger car, you can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45% and moderate to critical injury by 50%.

2. If you buckle up in a light truck, you can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 60% and moderate to critical injury by 65%.

If 90% of motorists on the nation's roads buckled up, 1,600 additional fatalities and 22,000 additional serious injuries could be prevented each year. In South Carolina alone, an estimated 108 additional lives could be saved and 1,006 additional serious injuries avoided.

The dangers out there are more than the coronavirus. Buckle your seat belts - please!

The (Greenwood) Index-Journal

Aug. 31

Don't be a horse's ...

"Things could not be worse": Upstate doctors describe conditions during COVID surge: Self Regional Medical Center's ICU was full Thursday morning. ... On Thursday morning, 38 patients were being treated at Self for COVID-19. Two months ago, the hospital spent weeks without a single COVID patient. The hospital is treating children it would normally send to other hospitals. Self refers serious pediatric cases to Upstate hospitals, but those facilities now lack the beds to care for these children.

McCormick County schools move to virtual learning Tuesday through end of week: McCormick County School District will transition to virtual learning beginning Tuesday because of an increase in COVID-19 quarantines among students and staff, according to a social media post made by the district. ...

State mask bans face federal civil rights inquiries: The Education Department announced Monday that it's investigating five Republican-led states that have banned mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions. ...

Red Devils cancel football this week because of COVID-19: Clinton High School announced the cancellation of Friday's varsity and junior varsity football games against Newberry because of positive COVID-19 tests within the Red Devils football program. ...

What's your takeaway from these few headlines and their stories?

We know what our takeaway is and has been, and yet people still think masks have no impact on the spread of COVID-19, still think the vaccines available to them were concocted in cahoots with the federal government as a means of controlling the population. Or that the vaccines contain microchips.

Microchips? Hey, where's the microsalsa, buddy?

And some medicine used as a horse dewormer will treat COVID-19 as opposed to wearing masks for protection of themselves and others, and getting the vaccine to avoid the virus or, at least, limit its impact on their health.

That's not horse sense. But it does indicate which end of the horse best represents what they are.

Don't be a horse's rear end. Be a responsible citizen by masking up and vaxxing up. Please.