As COVID-19 cases rise in SC, DHEC warns of an increase in hospitalizations

Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 6:54 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As the number of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina continues to rise, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials warn this uptick could lead to more hospitalizations in the days and weeks to come.

At Prisma Health Richland Hospital, Dr. Helmut Albrecht, says the hospital is seeing a manageable increase in patients because he says the majority of new cases are people under the age of 40, who rarely need to be hospitalized.

Right now, Albrecht says the capacity in the intensive care units is sufficient. However, if South Carolina continues to see increases as large as 15 percent per day, he says that could lead to major problems.

“There’s clearly not enough immunity. This can still go back on an exponential rise. One patient, if you do not put checks in place, turns into 406 patients in 30 days,” he explained.

The hospital has resumed some elective surgeries that could no longer be put off, but Albrecht says operations are far from back to normal.

Tuesday’s hospital bed occupancy in Richland County was at nearly 70 percent.

“It’s a little higher than it was and would be, with or without the additional surge, because we feel certain things we cannot delay any further, but it’s not a critical value here, and it fluctuates every day pretty significantly. I think we keep an eye on intensive care unit capacity, but overall hospital capacity, we still have a long ways to go before we get into trouble,” Albrecht explained.

Two counties in the state, York and Orangeburg, are experiencing more than 80 percent hospital bed occupancy.

If the number of hospitalizations increases, which they anticipate, there could be a shortage of remdesivir, a drug used to treat patients with COVID-19.

“There will not be a new stock for quite a while, so I do expect if the numbers go up, which eventually will translate into more hospital admission, that we’ll run short on the medication,” said Albrecht.

Prisma Health also explained that as the number of cases in South Carolina rises, they are not seeing as many convalescent plasma donors to meet the demand.

“The plasma allows patients to maybe scratch by without needing a ventilator, so usually the course of illness is much shorter, so they get discharged faster," Albrecht noted.

The hospital wants to stress the importance of wearing a mask in public spaces. Albrecht says wearing a mask doesn’t protect you from getting the virus, but it helps you from spreading it.

He says if everyone wears a mask, the likelihood of overwhelming the health care system is drastically lower.

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