Lexington Medical Center facing ‘critical shortage’ of ICU beds, as DHEC calls for more South Carolinians to act with immediacy in getting vaccinated

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Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 8:37 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Lexington Medical Center is facing a “critical shortage” of intensive care beds as the entire hospital is nearing capacity.

As of Wednesday morning, the hospital reported 96% of all available beds were occupied.

Its 149 COVID patients made up about 28% of the 520 total people hospitalized at Lexington Medical Center, and staff said 86% of those with COVID in the hospital were unvaccinated. The hospital also reported the majority of the approximately 37 COVID patients in intensive care were unvaccinated as well, though there were four breakthrough cases with full vaccinated patients.

“It’s not only putting a strain on our hospital system, on our employees, but that impacts direct care if you come in with a heart issue or a surgery that you need or cancer treatment,” said Thomas Tafel, Lexington Medical Center’s community outreach manager.

Tafel said as those cases and hospitalizations have been rising, Lexington Medical Center has also experienced a corresponding uptick in vaccinations and testing at its clinic in West Columbia, especially in the number of first doses administered in the last two weeks.

“Last Friday, we did over 150 shots here. On Monday, we did over 120 shots, and we’re averaging well above 80 every day, so that number is more than double what we were seeing a few weeks ago,” Tafel said.

While there has been a slight and steady increase in South Carolina’s vaccination rate since July 1, DHEC said more people need still need to get the vaccine — and fast.

“We need to get there more quickly before we have the emergence of a virus strain that could be resistant to the vaccine or just simply to prevent the rapid rise of hospitalizations that we are currently seeing, that we can avert these, that we can avert additional deaths,” Dr. Linda Bell, DHEC’s state epidemiologist, said. “So the faster we get there, the better off we are.”

Dr. Bell also said slow vaccination rates may be moving the target needed for herd immunity, the point at which the virus is significantly reduced or even eliminated.

Public health officials have said a 70% vaccination rate is the goal to reach herd immunity.

“We will need to achieve a much higher coverage rate because the [virus] is so much more transmissible,” Dr. Bell said. “We are likely to see more cases, as I mentioned, how it is spread more readily, infecting more people. So what we’re looking at now to achieve that herd immunity, to eliminate this pandemic or to significantly reduce the pandemic, would be around the 80% range.”

Lexington Medical Center will be giving unvaccinated people more opportunities to get their shot, as starting this Sunday, the clinic will be open seven days a week for both walk-ins and appointments.

“I would just stress to people to be informed, to know that these vaccines are here, and we are seeing that is the best way to prevent you from being hospitalized from COVID-19,” Tafel said.

The clinic, located at 139 Summerplace Drive in West Columbia, will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for free.

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