SC ICU Doctor seeing spike in severely sick, unvaccinated patients earlier than expected

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Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 6:25 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WIS)- Hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 are trending up in South Carolina, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

But while the beds aren’t full in South Carolina ICUs during the first few days of the New Year, doctors say they are getting worried.

“We’re lagging behind some of the other states like North Carolina,” MUSC Chief of Acute, Critical Care, and Trauma Dr. Alice Boylan said. “I got a call the other night over the weekend from a physician who called 12 hospitals to get a patient into an ICU bed in North Carolina and there was nothing available… we’re starting to see an uptick here.”

Boylan said when she returned to the ICU on New Year’s Eve after a couple of days off, she was surprised to see the frequency and severity of illness there.

“So many young people get so sick and so devastating. And just one after another,” she said. “We’re seeing 20-year-olds, 30 year olds, who were completely healthy before, unvaccinated, become horribly ill, requiring the maximum support we have.”

She said every patient she has seen has either been unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or are on medications that weaken the immune system. She also said while federal health officials are saying omicron may be less severe than previous COVID-19 variants, sequencing has shown it is not the only variant in South Carolina and unvaccinated people are still at risk of being severely sick or dying from it.

She said in the past three days she has seen the virus aggressively attack patients’ lungs, hearts, kidneys, and on rare occasions their brains.

“They get inflammation of the brain to the point that the brain is destroyed, significantly destroyed,” Boylen said.

She predicts the worst of this spike is a couple weeks away, but she is already worried about her staff.

The doctor and leader at MUSC says that many on her team are coming into the new year already exhausted, but the high transmissibility of the virus is also putting their physical health at risk.

“They’re not getting sick because they’re all vaccinated, but we can’t have them exposing patients who are immunosuppressed…so they have to stay out until they recover and stop shedding virus,” Boylen said

What makes this rise in hospitalizations even harder for Boylen and her team is that it could’ve been avoided.

“It is vital that people get vaccinated. This is so preventable,” she said.

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