South Carolina hospitals prepare for COVID-19

Updated: Mar. 3, 2020 at 6:06 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina officials and hospitals are making sure they’re ready if a case of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, pops in the Palmetto State.

Doctors at Prisma Health Richland Hospital say they are meeting daily with the CDC and DHEC to make sure they are following best practices and creating the best plan in case an infected individual walks through their hospital doors.

But what’s the reason behind all of this preparation? Doctors say this disease is new, and they are still learning about it. That’s why you are hearing so much about COVID-19.

Signs have been placed at the entrance and waiting rooms of Prisma Health facilities that explain if you have flu-like symptoms and have recently traveled outside of the country, you must put on a mask. Hospital staff said the first step is to question a patient, who has been out of the country or exposed to someone with COVID-19. If they think that a person could have the virus, doctors will place the patient in a negative pressure isolation room.

Once the patient is isolated, the hospital’s infectious disease team will contact DHEC and the CDC. Right now, only those two agencies have the ability to test for COVID-19 in South Carolina, and they also help the hospital decide whether or not a patient should be tested. Hospitals in the state still do not have access to the testing kits.

"Right now, this is the early steps with the CDC, explained Dr. Steve Shelton, an Emergency Physician at Prisma Health Richland Hospital. "They are sending them out to public agencies and are starting to make materials available for private manufacturers, so hopefully we will eventually have it within our laboratories."

Shelton says the COVID-19 test involves swabbing a patient’s nose or the back of their throat. That test is sent to the lab for testing and takes 24 hours to determine the results. Doctors say there is not currently a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, but over-the-counter medications, like cold and cough medicines, can help treat symptoms of the virus.

Prisma Health wants to stress that its big problem right now is the flu. “It's new. It's something that we haven't been exposed to. It will be contagious. There are a lot of people who will be exposed, but you have to look at the numbers. There are multiple people who have the flu. There are over 20,000 deaths in the U.S. from the flu. In South Carolina, our biggest concern is the flu," Shelton explained.

Those who are at the highest risk of catching COVID-19 are the young, the elderly and those who are already being treated for chronic medical diseases.

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