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DHEC To Give SC First Responders In Contact With COVID-19 Patients Priority Testing

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First Responders Coronavirus

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) will give first responders who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients priority status for testing, according to a letter obtained by FITSNews.

In a letter to Tim Winslow and Dwight Stewart of the South Carolina Association of Counties, SCDHEC director Richard Toomey said health officials officials “finalized arrangements for first responders to receive priority testing status.”

This decision was made at the request of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and EMS workers to protect first responders as they face a growing number of COVID-19 patients.

Details of those arrangements will be shared with county leaders tomorrow, Toomey said in the letter.

The decision was made “after significant planning and discussion over the last few days,” the letter said.

Toomey also said SCDHEC will now provide data of coronavirus cases by zipcode, per the request of county leaders.

Toomey urged that first responders follow CDC guidance for every call they are on, assuming there are many more cases than their data shows.

South Carolina is moving to the “disease mitigation strategy” of the pandemic — meaning they are more focused on testing a “reasonable sample of those who are ill” compared to testing everyone possible for coronavirus.

“The goal becomes monitoring disease spread in a community, not identifying every case,” Toomey said in the letter. “Consequently, the gap between DHEC’s knowledge of the tested and lack of knowledge of the untested will continue to expand.”

As we have noted from the beginning of our coverage of the pandemic, SCDHEC’s public health laboratory has been conducting only limited testing at this point. Furthermore, the agency has not included comprehensive test results from private labs in its daily case updates. Finally, the confirmed or presumed positive cases obtained from both sources – private labs and government testing centers – obviously are not representative of the total number of South Carolinians who have been infected by the virus.

SCDHEC asked first responders to make decisions about the use of personal protective equiptment in accordance to CDC guidelines.

“..law enforcement officials are at low risk for occupational exposure to COVID-19 and should follow guidance provided for individuals working in business, not healthcare, settings,” Toomey said in the letter.

However, the CDC considers EMS to be in a a different risk category than law enforcement officers. EMS workers should follow CDC’s Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points guidelines.

The guidance gives steps for dispatchers dealing with COVID-19 risks.

“Any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 in South Carolina and calls 911 is subject to DHEC’s isolation and quarantine directive which requires the person to notify 911 there is an infected person at the location,” Toomey said in the letter.

There are now a total of 342 cases in 36 of the state’s 46 counties, according to SCDHEC officials. As of Tuesday evening, seven people have died from coronavirus in South Carolina.

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