S.C. governor asks colleges to complete semester online as 21 more COVID-19 cases reported

In a news conference Thursday, South Carolina’s governor announced a new executive order as cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continue to rise.
Updated: Mar. 19, 2020 at 11:09 PM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s governor announced a new executive order to assist with unemployment benefits and keep people safe as cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, continue to increase in the state.

Gov. Henry McMaster and public health officials from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) spoke Thursday from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia.

“Nothing is off the table, we don’t want to go too far too soon but we are intent on staying ahead of this virus,” said McMaster.

McMaster called for all public colleges and universities in the state to finish their semesters online. He said schools should determine which employees are needed to ensure that can happen.

Around the same time as the news conference, the University of South Carolina confirmed students at all of its campuses will finish the semester through virtual learning and not in-person classes.

UofSC also postponed graduation.

The governor’s latest executive order also cut some red tape related to unemployment benefits, hoping to speed those up for people in need. It also mandates non-essential state employees, as decided by their supervisor, stay home.

“Prior to the executive order, it took about two weeks with average employee response as to the reason for the termination for the first benefit check to be paid,” said McMaster. “With the executive order, it will take one week.”

DHEC announced 21 new cases Thursday across 17 counties. Here is the breakdown by county:

  • Kershaw: 29
  • Richland: 8
  • Beaufort: 7
  • Greenville: 7
  • Horry: 6
  • Charleston: 5
  • Lexington: 5
  • Anderson: 3
  • Lancaster: 3
  • Abbeville: 1
  • Calhoun: 1
  • Dorchester: 1
  • Fairfield: 1
  • Lee: 1
  • Saluda: 1
  • Spartanburg: 1
  • York: 1

There is a patient with COVID-19 at a hospital in Sumter, Prisma Health confirmed, even though DHEC has not reported a case in that county.

To clarify, DHEC said the cases are reported based on where the patients live -- not where they are receiving treatment.

DHEC said its lab has conducted more than 900 tests at this point.

State officials also addressed what they say is a shrinking number of testing resources in South Carolina.

“They’re limited across the state. Some places have more than others,” said Rick Toomey, the director of DHEC. “We continue to work with the hospitals and doctors offices with those supplies.”

Dr. Linda Bell, the state epidemiologist with DHEC, said people should not be concerned about shopping in public settings like grocery stores. She said the agency has gotten many questions about this -- but brief contact in public settings is not considered a high-risk exposure for everyone.

When asked about businesses like barbershops and hair salons, Dr. Linda Bell shared this advice.

“There are guidelines for business in general and they are essentially the same. That they should practice social distancing and consider if they are providing an essential service,” said Dr. Bell.

She also urged people to stay calm as more cases are reported, because the numbers will keep going up.

“Don’t overreact as cases increase,” she said.

The governor also wanted to ensure the public will be safe during this outbreak. Part of his most recent executive order directs law enforcement to “vigorously enforce laws to prevent looting, robbery, thefts and acts of violence during this emergency.”

He added that visitors to hospitals be limited to only “end of life” situations. Howeer, he added there can be exceptions like childbirth.

McMaster also pointed out resource officers from schools and other government buildings are now available to help keep the public safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the coronavirus is spread mainly from person-to-person by those in close contact, or through coughing and sneezing by someone who’s infected.

Symptoms of coronavirus can show up between two and 14 days of exposure, health officials say. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But some severe cases can lead to death.

Those who are at the highest risk of developing a serious cases of COVID-19 are the elderly and those who are already being treated for chronic medical diseases.

Young people who contract the virus are not likely to have a serious case, research shows.

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.

The mortality rate for people with the virus has been widely reported around 2 to 3%, but health experts note the actual percentage is not that high, as not all cases are diagnosed or reported.

The rate is higher than the flu, which kills on average about 0.1% of people who get it, based on a 10-year average of data from the CDC.

Anyone with concerns about their health, or who believes they are showing symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, should call their health care provider.

People with general questions about coronavirus should call the DHEC Care Line at 855-472-3432. The line is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Callers are urged to be patient as call volumes are high.

People without a doctor can take advantage of free online screening from Prisma Health and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

MUSC has an online platform to aid with coronavirus diagnosis and care. Go to musc.care and access the COVID-19 platform. The service is free with code: COVID19.

Prisma Health also has a free virtual visit, which allows patients to video conference with a doctor instead of coming into a facility. The goal is to keep patients who don’t need to be treated at a hospital at home. Go to prismahealth.org/virtual-visit and use promo code COVID19 for a free virtual visit.

For more information on COVID-19, click or tap here to visit the CDC’s website.

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