COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As the first doses of the Moderna vaccine arrive in communities across the country, some South Carolina doctors are worried people are growing tired of masks and social distancing. They say hospitalizations are quickly rising in the Palmetto State, and they warn the Christmas holiday could lead to the largest surge yet.
“Those individuals that come in sick with this disease, struggling to breathe, have to be supported and are very sick; This is real,” explained Dr. Steve Shelton, one of Prisma Health’s leaders in their COVID-19 response.
Prisma Health officials in the Upstate held a virtual news conference Monday, saying they are already seeing the largest number of COVID patients since the pandemic began. They add they’ve done all they can to create more bed space.
While Midlands doctors hope their hospitals don’t reach that point, they say it’s possible if people don’t act now.
“It’s what they do, or don’t do in the coming days, that could shape what our healthcare system looks like in the coming weeks,” explained Shelton.
In the Midlands, Prisma’s four hospitals are caring for 116 COVID-19 patients right now. That’s compared to around 70 patients two weeks ago.
“Prisma Health has seen a significant increase over the past few weeks, and in our markets, most of the surge has been in the Upstate, but the Midlands is starting to see some of that surge as well,” said Shelton.
Prisma Health says it’s been able to train some of its medical-surgical nurses to be able to work in the ICU, but the healthcare system is still seeing staffing shortages like the rest of the country.
“With the surge in the community, we have healthcare workers that have been exposed in the community that are now becoming sick, so that is an issue with us,” Shelton explained.
A new variant or strain of COVID-19 detected in the UK is also causing health experts to raise their guard.
“Based on modeling, it may suggest, and that’s the word to underscore may suggest, that there is a greater likelihood of increased transmissibility,” said Michael Schmidt, professor of microbiology and immunology at MUSC in Charleston.
Schmidt believes this new strain could already be here in the U.S.
“We’ll know fairly quickly, especially since Britain sounded the alarm and said hey folks, there’s a new variant. Check your strains to see if there’s any wandering about in your country,” Schmidt noted.
Experts say virus mutations aren’t uncommon, and there’s no evidence to suggest the strain is any more deadly or that vaccines won’t work against it.
While more than 7,000 South Carolina healthcare workers have already received doses of the Pfizer vaccine, some other facilities, like the Columbia VA, say they are waiting on the Moderna shipments.
Prisma Health does not expect to receive the Moderna vaccine, and Lexington Medical Center says it has not received any information about when it will receive Moderna doses.
Moderna vaccine shipments will be distributed to CVS and Walgreens, and CVS says it will begin distributing the vaccine to skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in South Carolina as early as next Monday, December 28th.