Area hospitals filling up with COVID patients

in Coronavirus/Health by

Vaccinations now open to anyone 70 and older – with appointments

By Mindy Lucas

While the numbers of patients testing positive continue to rise this winter both across the country and here in Beaufort County – just as the country’s top health experts had warned – hospitals around the Lowcountry are filling up with COVID-19 patients, officials say.

As of Monday, Jan. 11, Beaufort Memorial’s 12-bed Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, had 10 patients on ventilators, according to hospital officials.

The hospital can open an additional unit if needed, but was managing its current patient load between the ICU and Progressive Care Unit, or PCU, said Courtney McDermott, the hospital’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

Across the river, Coastal Carolina and Hilton Head Hospital, both part of the Hilton Head Regional Healthcare System managed by the Tenet Healthcare Corporation, have also seen an increase in the number of patients treated for the virus in the last couple of weeks, said the healthcare system’s Group Manager of Communications Daisy Burroughs.

As of Monday, the health system was treating 27 patients with COVID-19 with three of those receiving care in their ICU, Burroughs confirmed.

The spike in cases was predicted by the country’s leading experts on the virus who feared traveling over the holidays along with in-person gatherings would lead to a post-holiday surge. And their fears were not unwarranted.

Over the past week across the country, there has been an average of 250,721 cases per day, an increase of 37 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times database which tracks COVID-19 numbers.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 12, more than 22,797,700 people in the United States had been infected, it showed.

Here in Beaufort County, the numbers of positive cases have steadily climbed in the last two weeks with hundreds of new cases reported for each week. Incidence rates are now at 725 per 100,000 people (compared to 235 cases per 100,000 people at the end of November).

Meanwhile, officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) also announced on Monday that any South Carolina resident age 70 or older, regardless of their health status or pre-existing conditions, can begin scheduling an appointment to receive the vaccine.

The decision was made in an effort to “speed things up again,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a news release issued earlier in the week.

“We know that those 70 and older are at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19. Making sure they have expedited access to the vaccine will help save lives,” McMaster said.

More than 67 percent, or two-thirds, of COVID-19 deaths in South Carolina, have been among those age 70 and older, DHEC’s Interim Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler said on a statewide teleconference call with members of the media on Monday.

In addition, it’s estimated there are roughly 627,800 South Carolinians who are 70 or older. Many have already received their vaccine through other Phase 1a eligibility requirements.

The decision to open vaccinations to those age 70 and older age was also based on state data that showed the rate of vaccines being shipped to South Carolina had increased over those individuals in Phase 1a who have already made an appointment or indicated they want to receive the vaccination, according to Traxler.

The agency said more than 105,800 doses of COVID vaccine had been administered in South Carolina as of Monday morning.

Additional steps to expedite access to more South Carolinians will be made based on the use of the vaccine, the number of appointments made and information on vaccine supply, officials said.

“While COVID-19 vaccine is currently limited in South Carolina, like it is in all states, our providers continue to receive ongoing weekly shipments of vaccine from the federal government,” Traxler said.

At Beaufort Memorial Hospital, more than 1,400 vaccines, including 170 second doses, had been given as of Monday. The hospital, which launched its vaccination program in December, has been administering shots to those in Phase 1a which includes hospital medical staff and employees considered “mission critical.”

McDermott said the hospital estimates approximately 60 to 70 percent of its staff had already received the first dose of the vaccine. Another 800 appointments had been scheduled and staff were expecting that number to climb throughout the week.

Asked if there had been any reports or complaints of bad reactions, McDermott said the hospital had not received any so far with the only commonly reported side effect being soreness at the injection site.

Until enough people are vaccinated, residents should continue to take measures to protect themselves and others, DHEC officials said on Monday.

“Vaccines are here and they are light at the end of the tunnel,” Traxler said. “But until enough of us receive full vaccinations, we must continue to wear masks, stay physically distant from others, limit contact with those outside of our household, and stay home if we’re sick and be tested.”

HOW CAN I GET THE COVID VACCINE?

If you are age 70 or older, you can now call DHEC’s Care Line at 1-855-472-3432 for assistance in locating contact information for scheduling an appointment. The Care Line cannot schedule an appointment for you, but can help provide the phone numbers of locations offering vaccine appointments.

Those in this age group, can also call Beaufort Memorial Hospital at (843) 522-5670, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule an appointment, or email the hospital at vaccine@bmhsc.org.

After business hours, phone lines will roll to voicemail and calls will be returned the next day. If emailing, make sure to include the following information:

First Name, Last Name

E-mail Address

Age

Date of Birth

Phone Number

Already a patient at one of the hospital’s physician practices? Check your email. Emails from Beaufort Memorial will be sent to patients 70 and older, advising them of their eligibility and including details about the registration process. A second email will be sent from the CDC and will include a link to schedule their appointment.

The hospital is not accepting walk-ins at its vaccination clinics.

I’m not 70 or older. When can I get the vaccine?

If you’re interested in finding out which phase you’re in, or where your group falls on the timeline for vaccinations, visit www.scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine. Information is subject to change, so make sure to check back frequently for updates.

More to know

A new tool: DHEC also launched an online vaccine site locator this week. The online map at scdhec.gov/vaxlocator shows the locations currently accepting appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine. It also provides contact information for scheduling appointments at those locations. The map itself is not a way to schedule an appointment.

Those 70 and older interested in getting the vaccine will be asked to provide a driver’s license or other form of ID at the time of the appointment to confirm their age. South Carolina residency is not a requirement to receive the vaccine.

Like all states, South Carolina currently has a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine. Some locations that offer vaccinations may not have an appointment available for several weeks, depending on their supply. Facilities receive doses of vaccine each week from the federal government.

Individuals are encouraged to schedule their second shot as soon as they can. It’s important that individuals receive both doses of the same brand of vaccine to ensure they are fully vaccinated.

For the latest vaccine information, visit scdhec.gov/vaxfacts.

Above: Vaccine cards and instructions await recipients at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Photo by Mindy Lucas.