With first doses completed and case numbers dropping, Newberry nursing home doctor optimistic about the future

NEWBERRY COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - It’s hard to overstate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on South Carolina nursing homes.

As of Feb. 2, the Department of Health and Environmental Control has tallied 1,762 resident deaths connected to the facilities and another 29 deaths among staffers.

As for the living, WIS has documented the mental and emotional anguish of residents and their families as state safety measures have limited and prevented their contact.

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Dr. Michael Bernardo is the Medical Director of four South Carolina nursing homes, including two in Newberry County, JF Hawkins, and White Oak Manor Newberry.

In a Feb. 3 interview, he said the last year has been “a tough haul,” but things are looking up after the facilities have received their first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference, we’re basically getting herd immunity, with 95 percent of the folks getting the vaccine. Hopefully, we’re not going to have any more outbreaks here,” he said. Bernardo said herd immunity is the product of both the spread of the virus and vaccinations. DHEC data from Feb. 2 shows 56 residents and 29 staffers at Hawkins have received their first shot. It lists 118 beds at the facility, but the exact number of patients is unclear.

Meanwhile, 71 residents and 54 staffers at White Oak Newberry have received their first dose. DHEC lists 146 beds at that facility.

As of Feb. 2, DHEC data shows JF Hawkins does not have an active COVID-19 outbreak, while White Oak Manor Newberry does.

Bernardo attributed the outbreak to a false positive recorded on Jan. 18. He said the last true positive was found on Dec. 28.

“The number of people who have antibodies or have ability to fight off these infections has gone to a certain level. Most people are talking about 70 percent or 80 percent, I don’t think [the public] have reached that yet, anywhere close to that,” he said.”Certainly, in the nursing homes, we’ve now reached it though, we’ve reached 80 percent immunity once we get this second shot in everyone.”

Both CVS and Walgreens report they have finished administering first doses to Skilled Nursing Facilities and are both more than 95 percent complete in all other long-term care facilities in South Carolina.

CVS reports it is 49 percent complete administering the second dose to the Skilled Nursing Facilities and 13 percent complete with the other facilities.

A January 25 press release states the pharmacy plans to be completed with second doses within four weeks nationwide.

Walgreens data set does not give an update on the percentage of second doses administered, but a Feb. 1 press release says it is 55 percent completed with the second dose nationwide.

Compounding the vaccine progress is DHEC data showing the number of cases per week has dropped for the last three weeks.

DHEC tallied 36,007 cases the week ending Jan. 9 and only 21,936 the week of Jan. 30.

The number of deaths per week also dropped the week of Jan. 30, dropping to 257 deaths from 441 the week prior.

The loosening of visitation restrictions has been a goal for some families throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Kacka, DHEC physician and Chief Medical Officer for COVID-19 said the department will continue to monitor the situation and the status quo remains.

“It’s based on county percent positivity when that’s below 10 percent, they can open up indoor visitation, that’s part of the current rules, that’s something we’ll continue looking at,” he said.

As of Feb. 2, DHEC lists 336 homes statewide that are not offering visitation as a result of the virus.

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