298 cases of coronavirus, 5 deaths in S.C.; governor orders officials to disperse groups of 3+ in public

Monday, DHEC announced 103 more cases, bringing the total to 298 cases in 34 counties across the state.
Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 12:49 PM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, have shot up in the state of South Carolina on Monday.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced 103 more cases, bringing the total to 298 cases in 34 counties across the state.

Five people have died so far in South Carolina, DHEC confirmed. All of those patients were elderly people with underlying health conditions.

Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist, said the state is now in the “acceleration” phase of the outbreak.

“This disease is here, it’s in our communities, and we all have a part to play in helping to stop the spread of it,” she said.

Bell said everyone in the state -- whether the virus is identified in their community or not -- needs to heed public health warnings and practice good hygiene.

In Monday’s news conference, the governor updated the state’s response to fight the spread of the virus.

He quickly addressed rumors about a shelter-in-place order for the state. McMaster said he isn’t ruling it out, but he doesn’t want to order it.

“That’s a drastic action and we hope that won’t be necessary,” McMaster said.

He urged everyone to use good personal hygiene and common sense to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor said he hopes those efforts will be enough to fight the virus without a shelter-in-place order.

With an executive order issued Monday, McMaster directed law enforcement across the state to disperse gatherings of three or more people in public. Officers can use the order as they see fit, after determining if the gathering threatens public health, the governor said.

This does not affect people in law-abiding businesses, McMaster said. It also doesn’t affect families who may be on outings.

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Posted by WIS TV on Monday, March 23, 2020

No additional regulations concerning schools or businesses were issued Monday.

About half of all state employees are working from home as of Monday, the governor said. He said he hopes that number moves to 70% at home as the week goes on.

The governor said hospitals listened to his request for them to cancel elective procedures and that has freed up hospital beds across the state to help respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

McMaster also identified numerous grocery stores that have implemented “senior shopping hours" to help protect customers who are most at risk to develop a serious case of the virus.

“The spirit of South Carolina is evident,” the governor said.

He urged people who are not yet taking the virus seriously to do so immediately.

“We must all assume we all have the virus, and everyone we talk to has the virus,” McMaster said.

Previously, the governor ordered all bars and restaurants to end dine-in service, and made an executive order to allow beer and wine curbside sales, though the alcohol cannot be delivered.

He shut down public schools through the end of March and public universities were urged to finish the semester through online classes. The federal government canceled all mandatory testing done at K-12 schools each spring.

State superintendent Molly Spearman said officials will likely make another announcement about the school schedule “when the time is right.”

Nothing was announced Monday.

Spearman said they are working on an action plan for graduations across the state.

State health officials have urged business owners to “practice social distancing and think about whether they are providing an essential service.”

That guidance was repeated Monday when officials were asked whether salons, barbershops, gyms and other such businesses should remain open.

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.

Please stay at home and do not visit a doctor’s office or emergency room unless your symptoms are life-threatening.

Click or tap here for a list of telehealth providers.

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.

Get the latest numbers from DHEC by clicking or tapping here.

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. However, the CDC said about 40% of people who needed to be hospitalized due to the coronavirus are between the ages of 20 and 54.

In South Carolina, a seven-month-old baby was hospitalized after contracting the virus.

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.

Again, 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.

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

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