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BY MINDY LUCAS
As new possible cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, emerged across South Carolina on Thursday, March 12, here in the Lowcountry local governments enacted emergency plans and cancelled more events as a precaution.
Two new possible cases of the virus – one in Lancaster County and one in Kershaw County – were announced by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in a news release issued Thursday.
That brings the Palmetto State’s number of presumptive positive cases to six and the number of confirmed cases to six for a total of 12 cases.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Beaufort County.
Beaufort Memorial Hospital
Four Beaufort Memorial Hospital employees are in self-isolation following contact with two people who are being looked at by DHEC for possible exposure to the coronavirus, according to a media advisory issued by the hospital on Thursday, March 12.
DHEC is testing the two and the four hospital employees will remain isolated until tests results come back.
“Our four employees are considered low-risk for COVID-19, however, testing for COVID-19 will be conducted by an authorized lab as a precaution,” said the hospital’s President and CEO Russell Baxley.
To ensure the safety of all patients and staff, the hospital is continuing to follow patient-handling and infection-prevention guidelines recommended by DHEC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the advisory stated.
In addition, the hospital has enacted new visitor restrictions and additional precautionary measures including:
- Increased Visitor Restrictions
Only one visitor per patient, including pediatric patients, will be allowed. Locked units, including the labor and delivery and intensive care units, will also be limited. Restrictions for visitors under age 18 will remain in effect until further notice.
- Separate Sick and Well ER Waiting
Patients and visitors in the ER will be asked to wait in separate areas. Patients and visitors will be directed appropriately when they enter the waiting room.
Those who are experiencing fever and respiratory symptoms or who are concerned they may have the virus are encouraged to use the hospital’s call ahead service.
Patients who use the service will receive a brief phone screening and instructions for what to do next. Based on their responses, patients could be asked to go to one of two Express Care locations in Beaufort or Bluffton to receive rapid influenza and strep tests.
“The call-ahead screening process is designed for patients who meet the high-risk criteria for COVID-19, including travel outside of the U.S. in the past 30 days and fever, cough and shortness of breath,” said the hospital’s Infection Prevention Manager Sherri Rabon.
“The goal is to decrease the risk of exposure to patients and staff, while providing symptomatic patients with clinical screenings and testing quickly and safely,” Rabon said.
In some cases, patients may be asked to wait in their cars while a medical provider administers and processes the tests. If both tests are negative and is not the flu or strep, patients will be given additional instructions to receive further testing at the hospital’s emergency department.
While Beaufort Memorial does not provide testing for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DHEC have encouraged hospitals to conduct certain tests before contacting DHEC to collect specimens for testing.
Those who are feeling sick can also use the hospital’s telemedicine service, BMH Care Anywhere, which also provides providers who can screen patients and refer them to a higher level of care if needed. BMH Care Anywhere is available in the App Store and Google Play, and at www.bmhcareanywhere.org.
City and County Governments
At Beaufort’s regular city council meeting on Tuesday, March 10, City Manager Bill Prokop said he and staff were following the recommendations of DHEC, county and state authorities.
Prokop also said they would be meeting next week with their own emergency management team to put a plan in place “should the virus become more serious in our area,” he told council members.
Beaufort County Administrator Ashley Jacobs said the county’s EMS Department and Detention Center have activated their pandemic plans, were stocking up on supplies and planning for staffing shortages.
The county, she said, will follow the protocols established by DHEC and the CDC.
The Beaufort County School District had announced earlier in the week, that an employee at Beaufort High School was self-quarantined and awaiting results from COVID-19 test.
However, by Thursday, the employee had received the results of the test, which were negative and signified that the person did not have COVID-19.
The employee will return to work once clearance from a medical professional has been provided, said Jim Foster, the district’s director of communications, in an email sent Thursday afternoon.
Foster also said the district is postponing non-essential, out-of-district student trips for the next 30 days and was temporarily suspending all CTE student internships in health care-related settings, which affects about 45-50 high school students district-wide.
In addition, the district is awaiting guidance from the South Carolina High School League regarding scheduled athletic competitions.
University of South Carolina Beaufort
The University of South Carolina Beaufort announced on Wednesday that it is extending its spring break by one week, or through March 21.
The university will not hold any in-person classes during this time. However, online courses will continue as scheduled, and all residence halls and dining service will remain open, a statement issued by the university said.
Students are asked not to return to campus until notification that in-person classes will resume.
In addition, all intercollegiate athletic competitions have been suspended through Thursday, March 26.
“Our first priority is always protecting the health and well-being of the full university community,” the statement said.
Parris Island and Naval Hospital
Parris Island cancelled its Marine Corps graduation ceremony for Friday, March 13, according to a statement posted on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island’s Facebook page.
“Out of an abundance of caution, all aspects – to include the remaining family day activities and tomorrow’s graduation ceremony – at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island are cancelled. Our newest Marines will depart the Depot today with their families. We understand the significance of this event to Marines and their families, but we must remain cautious and focused on public safety,” the statement said.
The post went on to say that future graduations will remain closed to the public until further notice. Although the graduation ceremony is cancelled, recruit training is ongoing.
On Wednesday, Capt. Bryan McDonnell, the depot’s director of communication strategy and operations, said that no recruits had been treated for the virus or had been quarantined at that time.
Over at the Naval Hospital Beaufort, where recruits would be sent if they were sick or needed to be treated for illness, Public Affairs/ Customer Relations Officer Trey Savitz said, as of 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, they had not seen any cases.
The hospital, which has 8 beds for non-ambulatory patients, expects to see cases if the disease continues to spread, he said.
“But we will also treat this just like we treat the flu – with contact precaution and remaining away from people who are sick.”
In the meantime, all recruits that come in to Parris Island, are undergoing a screening process that entails both a verbal component such as asking recruits about recent travel to foreign countries, and a physical component in which the mouth is swabbed and a sample is sent off for testing, Savitz said.
In addition, the hospital has enacted its emergency management plan for pandemics which includes limiting contact, additional training for staff who may be answering patient questions and using telephone screening to talk to patients who are concerned they may be sick.
The hospital has daily “Table Top” meetings that include all heads of departments, infectious disease specialists and medical staff as well as the hospital’s commanding officers, Savitz said.