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Hospitals Worry As COVID Cases Rise To Near Record In SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The number of new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina are reaching levels only seen in the worst days of the pandemic before vaccines were widely available, leading hospitals to warn unless the spike in cases is curbed soon there will be dire consequences.

There were 6,697 new cases of the disease reported Friday in South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.

The only days with more cases reported since the pandemic started 18 months ago were 7,680 cases on Jan. 6 and 7,450 on Jan. 8.

“The expected surge in new cases once children returned to school across South Carolina and the proliferation of the highly transmissible delta variant has fueled a spike that requires our attention and legislative consideration of the removal of masking restrictions," the health agency wrote in a statement.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly in June passed an item in the state budget threating to take state money away from school districts that require masks. Back then, South Carolina was averaging 150 new COVID-19 cases a day. Now that average is above 4,500 new cases.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is one of the biggest defenders of the mask ban and hasn't directly addressed the pandemic since Aug. 9.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising. South Carolina is averaging 30 deaths a day after being at less than three deaths a day in mid-summer.

Doctors across the state have held news conferences this week with grim warnings. They have all repeatedly said this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Around 90% of the COVID-19 patients in hospitals have not been fully vaccinated.

Hospitals across the state are warning of full emergency rooms and ICUs. Prisma Health, which operates hospitals in about half the state, had 464 COVID-19 patients Friday. The hospitals in the Midlands and Upstate had 12 on July 2, officials said.

Lexington Medical Center last week had almost 70 patients on ventilators last week, the most in the 50-year history of the hospital. The only reason the hospital hasn't set another record is several patients died, said Dr. Brent Powers, chief medical officer for the hospital.

The hospital has started plans to curtail elective procedures and clear room for extra patients. But at some point, nurses, doctors and other staff can only put in so many hours, Powers said.

“The fear, and you can see it in everyone’s eyes at these meetings — is this going to be a three-to-four-week thing or is this going to be a three-to-four-month thing?” Powers said. “If it’s three to four months, our community is going to suffer in ways that I don’t think it has ever experienced before.”

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press