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SC in bottom 10 of states when it comes to COVID deaths, pediatric cases, vaccinations, nurses available

ICU doctors stress need for more people to get vaccinated ahead of next surge
Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 6:52 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Doctors on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 at the Medical University of South Carolina are exhausted.

According to an analysis of Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data, South Carolina is in the bottom 10 when it comes to coronavirus cases in 2021 per 100,000 people. At the same time, the Palmetto State is 40th among all states in terms of percent of people fully vaccinated.

So after a brief and slight reprieve from dealing with unprecedented hospitalizations due to the delta variant, MUSC doctors are readying for another surge in the new year.

“We are expecting another surge at the end of January. Right now, things are manageable,” said MUSC Acute, Trauma, Critical Care chief Dr. Alice Boylan. “Our numbers are down from what they were, but we are planning for more.”

Dr. Boylan’s attitude is to prepare for the worst but hope for the best when it comes to the potential of another surge. However, after more than two years battling the virus, seeing people come into the ICU with severe disease from an illness that is largely preventable with vaccinations is draining.

“It’s been hard. We take calls at night for requests for transfers and having people beg you to take patients when you have no ability to take care of them…that’s emotionally hard,” she said.

Boylan says one of her top concerns is staffing. Data from the Nurse Journal shows that South Carolina had the fewest nurses per 1,000 people in 2019, before the coronavirus was detected in the state. Boylan says as nurses continue to face long hours and emotionally draining days, many are leaving the profession, retiring early, or decided to stop working in hospitals.

However, the strain isn’t only on adult ICUs, MUSC pediatrics division chief Dr. Elizabeth Mack says many children are getting sick from COVID.

“2021 has been a rough year for a number of reasons, but primarily because we saw more death, more morbidity, more mortality, much more severe COVID amongst children and still very low vaccine rates. Both COVID and MIS-C are vaccine preventable,” Dr. Mack said.

She said all of the children who have been in her ICU from COVID-19 are unvaccinated and about half of them were eligible for vaccination when they were admitted.

To make matters worse, Mack says when they are recovered, some of these children, they don’t have anyone waiting for them.

“We have a number of children who have lost their families due to COVID. Not surprisingly, COVID goes through households and not surprisingly, older folks often don’t fare as well,” Mack said. “And sometimes we have a child in the hospital for COVID and there is no one to discharge them to because unfortunately one or more of their parents or caregivers have died. This is something we really haven’t seen before, so even if they are medically well, socially we have to sort out that piece that has really been heartbreaking.”

Mack said she is already seeing hospitalizations pick up in the pediatric ICU. Mack notes as of data published before Christmas from the American Academy of Pediatrics, South Carolina is the sixth worst state in terms of cases among children when population is taken into account.

Nolan and Mack said while they know more how to treat COVID patients now than they did during the first wave, it’s important people take precautions not to strain the hospital system. Mack also said people shouldn’t assume treatments like monoclonal antibodies will be available and effective if they get severely sick from COVID.

They both pleaded for the community to get vaccinated and not be afraid to ask health care professionals any questions about the vaccine if they are curious.

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