Health experts widely agree that prolific and widespread testing has proven to be one of the strongest weapons in controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Yet as the virus spirals out of control in South Carolina — the No. 3 hotspot in the world for new COVID-19 cases — the state’s testing numbers are falling behind, and are nowhere near where they need to be in order to mitigate the disease, according to Harvard researchers.
In his last three press conferences, Gov. Henry McMaster has pointed the finger at young people and blamed their reckless behavior for the surging COVID-19 cases in South Carolina.
But McMaster has not mentioned any new plans for increasing testing in South Carolina — ranked 34th in the nation for COVID-19 tests per capita and 47th in the U.S. for percent of positive tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Despite its efforts announced in June to expand COVID-19 testing across the state, South Carolina health officials are still failing to provide widespread and timely testing to properly mitigate and eventually suppress the rapidly spreading virus.
That’s according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, and a plethora of other data sources showing South Carolina’s troubling COVID-19 numbers.
The NPR news analysis ranked South Carolina the 46th state in the nation when comparing daily testing against positive case data.
In fact, the state’s current testing goals aren’t even in the right ballpark, according to Harvard researchers.
On June 22, South Carolina Department of Health and and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) announced that it was ramping up its testing goals to 140,000 COVID-19 tests per month in July and August and 165,000 tests per month from September through December.
Those goals — however — fall desperately short of the kind of testing needed to take control of the virus, according to a recent news analysis conducted by Harvard researchers for NPR.
To achieve mitigation, which NPR defines as “keeping the size of current outbreaks from growing” with the goal of less than 10 percent positive tests, South Carolina needs to be doing 32,831 tests per day (or 638 tests per 100K residents).
It’s currently conducting 9,346 coronavirus tests per day, according to the study.
SCDHEC’s current goal only aims for the state to complete 4,666 tests per day.
In South Carolina, to test enough to achieve suppression, which Harvard researchers define as a positivity rate of 3 percent or lower, South Carolina would need to do 121,704 tests per day.
For weeks now, labs across the state have been backed up and a majority of tests results are taking between five and ten days.
Despite the $43 million SCDHEC received to increase COVID testing in South Carolina, the health department has very few future events planned in which they are the providers.
“DHEC flat out told me that their resources are strapped,” Senator Tom Davis, of Beaufort, said. “So we are trying to figure out what they need to get more testing, and to close the gap between when a test is given and when the results are reported.”
Davis has been working relentlessly on increasing testing in Beaufort County — one of many coastal counties that has seen surging cases this summer.
He said it’s equally as important to start working on ways to increase lab capacity to increase turnaround times on testing.
“It does no good to have these tests and not get timely results,” Davis said. “People want to know their health status so they can make decisions to protect themselves and others.”
Throughout the month of July SCDHEC is only hosting three COVDI-19 mobile testing clinics so far. All of the other mobile events are done by private providers with the assistance of SCDHEC providing the tests.
After weeks of back-and-forth with SCDHEC, Davis received confirmation Thursday for four additional testing events in Beaufort County.
What Could Help?
Davis said South Carolina needs an “all hands on deck” approach to boosting testing and outside-the-box solutions when it comes to increasing lab capacity and closing the gap on testing times.
Some in South Carolina are asking if our strong military ties could help provide on-the-ground support for widespread testing.
“We need to do something so that testing can be dramatically increased and the results are turned around more quickly,” Davis said. “If that means leveraging military resources and personnel, then let’s do it.”
The U.S. military announced earlier this week it was deploying medical personnel to help at hospitals in Texas, another hotspot for the disease in the U.S.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
COVID-19 in SC
On yet another record-breaking day for COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, state health officials announced the first pediatric death due to coronavirus on Saturday.
“Today, we mourn the loss of one of our children to this virus. It is heart-wrenching to lose a child under any circumstances, and especially so during a time when we have all lost so much already,” Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Public Health Director, said in a press release. “Our state is in a dire situation and we will continue to mourn the loss of parents, grandparents, children, friends and neighbors until each and every one of us steps up to do what is right, not just for ourselves but for others.”
SCDHEC announced 2,339 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a record for the pandemic so far. The agency also announced 18 new deaths Saturday.
Because the tests are taking about 7 days for results, today’s case numbers likely represent the state of the virus from a week ago.
The Palmetto state has averaged about 19 deaths per day so far in July, which is more than twice the average number of daily deaths in May and June (8).
Hospitalizations slightly decreased on Saturday, for the first time in weeks.
“As of this morning, 2,801 inpatient hospital beds are available and 7,906 are in use, which is a 73.84% statewide hospital bed utilization rate,” SCDHEC officials said. “Of the 7,906 inpatient beds currently used, 1,396 are occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
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].
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? We have an open microphone policy! Submit your own letter to the editor (or guest column) via-email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE. Want to help support what we’re doing? SUBSCRIBE HERE.