As Lee County grapples with high COVID-19 rate, testing clinic aiming to expand testing options

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT
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LEE COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) -  Lee County’s population is small compared to some of its neighbors, but the spread of COVID-19 is high. 

Department of Health and Environmental Control data, as of July 21, puts Lee County’s COVID-19 rate per 100,000 people at 2,371.

While Lee County's population is under 17,000 residents, the rate of COVID-19 spread is outpacing Richland County, Lexington County, and all of Lee County's immediate neighbors. 

Publicly available DHEC information lists only one testing site in the county and no hospital beds.

The one clinic testing in the county is CareSouth-Carolina in Bishopville.

Clinic Administrator George General said his team has been testing as many as 100 people a day.

He said supply chains have gotten stronger since the pandemic began, but there have been days where patients without symptoms have had to be turned away due to a lack of tests. 

While the brick and mortar clinic is the only permanent location in Lee County that's testing, his team is part of a push by CareSouth to roll out community testing. 

CareSouth Carolina Chief of Community Health Joe Bittle said the company is teaming up with DHEC to help rural communities in Lee County and elsewhere benefit from more testing locations and options. 

“These people do not have transportation to come into town, but they’re aware and want to be tested, so we’re taking it to them,” he said. 

He said CareSouth has put on several mobile clinics since April.

The next is scheduled for Friday, July 24 at New Zion AME Church outside of Bishopville from 8 a.m. to Noon. It's free to the public and will be a drive-through. 

Bittle said the company will also be rolling out mobile testing sites in Timmonsville, Clio, Patrick, and Lynchburg in the coming weeks. 

Information on other testing sites can be found here.

County Administrator Alan Watkins said CareSouth has been able to handle the testing demand for the county, but it's something county leadership is monitoring. 

He attributed Lee County's high COVID-19 spread in part to the numbers of residents who leave the county to work, risking exposure in surrounding cities and then bringing it back. 

He said while COVID-19 may be coming from regional sources, the region is also providing solutions. He said his county benefits from strong relationships with other testing clinics and hospitals, and they're necessary partnerships. 

“There’s really not a lot we could do [to have more hospital beds]. If we could build a hospital, we do not have the doctors and the nurses in this community to house and staff it,” he Watkins said. 

As of July 21, there are 399 positive cases in the county and 24 deaths. 

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