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Hilton Head Region Among Highest Risk Areas In U.S. For Hospitals In COVID-19, News Analysis Says



Hilton Head beach crowd

The Hilton Head Island region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the United States for hospitals being overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a news analysis by Five Thirty Eight

Five Thirty Eight analyzed the number of at-risk residents in metropolitan areas across the United States, combined with the number of hospitals and ICU beds in those regions for its study.

“By that measure, one of the most vulnerable regions for which we have data is the Hilton Head Island metropolitan area, where about 63 percent of adults are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and there are approximately 3,900 high-risk individuals for every ICU bed,” author Likhitha Butchireddygari wrote in the Five Thirty Eight story.

Beaufort County – where one-third of the population is older than 60 – is among the top ten counties for COVID-19 cases per capita in South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). The median age in Beaufort County is 45.5 years old, while South Carolina’s median age is 38.8 years old.

Beaufort County has recorded 241 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths, according to the latest DHEC data. Health experts estimate the county has seen 1,480 coronavirus cases — considering the vast majority of cases go unreported due to lack of testing.

In Beaufort County, the 29902 zip code (Beaufort, Port Royal, Parris Island, and Burton) has the highest amount of cases with 78 confirmed and 479 estimated. The 29910 (Bluffton) zip code has the second highest amount of cases (42 confirmed, 258 estimated), according to SCDHEC.

Neighboring Jasper County, considered a part of the Hilton Head region the study, only has 15 reported cases. Jasper County’s population of around 30,000 people is just a fraction of Beaufort County’s 192 residents.

The “Hilton Head region” referred to by Five Thirty Eight covers both Beaufort and Jasper County and considers three hospitals for covering the region —Beaufort Memorial, Hilton Head Hospital, and Coastal Carolina.

Those hospitals combined have 28 ICU beds and 329 total beds, according to the Island Packet. The Island Packet reported that at least two of those hospitals were planning on increasing their ICU capacity in early April. 

The Five Thirty Eight study didn’t mention that residents in the Bluffton, Hardeeville and Jasper County areas of the region are about a 30-to-45 minute drive from Savannah’s two hospitals that have 714 beds, according to WTOC. 

Senator Tom Davis recently told the Island Packet the Naval Hospital in Beaufort was being considered as a place to take COVID-19 patients if the hospital system became overwhelmed.

Making matters more confusing, projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a leading model for COVID-19 used by SCDHEC, now shows South Carolina’s peak for hospital resources was April 23.

These models have shifted dramatically in the last week. As of April 17, IHME showed the peak at the very end of April. Then last Friday, the models showed that the peak for hospital resources was on April 15.

It’s important to note that these models assume South Carolina continues to practice social distancing “until infections minimized and containment implemented” — which means widespread testing and contract tracing of cases. South Carolina has neither at the moment.

In other words, we are by no means out of the woods yet.

As of Thursday, 6,642 (or 58 percent) of hospital beds in South Carolina in use.

Adding to the area’s vulnerability is tourism — especially if lockdown orders are lifted. Right now, public access to Hilton Head’s public beach access points are still closed, but some hotels with private beachfront access remain open.

Hilton Head’s public beach access points will remain closed through at least April 30 when Town Council revisits the issue, according to town manager Steve Riley.

Several Hilton Head residents have told FITSNews they’re worried that cases could surge and overwhelm the hospitals when the tourists start coming back. At the same time, tourism is the backbone of Hilton Head’s economy with the majority of jobs revolving around it.

Hilton Head is home to about 40,000 residents, but sees about 2.5 million tourists a year.



Mandy Matney

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].



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