The South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) is not the tip of the spear in the Palmetto State when it comes to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. That would be the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC).
For those of you unhip to the disorganized, ineffective and unaccountable maze of byzantine bureaucracy in South Carolina, SCDHHS is primarily a pass-through agency for federal Medicaid dollars. It is funded to the tune of $8.04 billion in the current (fiscal year 2021-22 budget). Of that total, $1.4 billion comes from the state’s general fund.
Why so much money? Because nearly one million South Carolinians are currently on Medicaid.
Anyway, late last week SCDHHS issued an “agency broadcast” to its employees warning them of a spike in Covid-19 cases and requiring them to wear masks in response.
“We are currently experiencing an inordinate number of Covid-19 cases in SCDHHS facilities,” the broadcast noted. “During this time period, team members must wear a mask when in any common area in the building or when interacting in-person with others.”
The broadcast also instructed “anyone who is sick, displaying symptoms consistent with those of Covid-19 or who has recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19” not to enter any SCDHHS facilities.
“This policy shall remain in effect until further notice,” the broadcast added, reminding employees that “supervisors have the authority to send team members home if they are displaying symptoms with Covid-19.”
Take a look …
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What prompted this updated policy?
Employees at the agency were scratching their heads …
“We haven’t had to wear masks since May or June,” one employee who received the broadcast told me, saying there “seems to be no evidence (of) … Covid running rampant at the agency.”
The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me their particular SCDHHS office building had more than a hundred employees and only one person had tested positive for Covid-19 since “we stopped having to wear masks this summer.”
According to the latest data from SCDHEC, the rolling seven-day average of confirmed Covid-19 cases stood at 1,042 as of December 11 – roughly unchanged from the previous six days but much higher than the post-Delta nadir of 561 recorded on November 27.
As I have previously pointed out, though, we have no idea exactly how “viral” these infections are because SCDHEC still isn’t collecting cycle threshold data – which would let us know how much viral load is present in each positive test. In other words we have no way of knowing whether one day’s batch of positive results is more heavily laden with Covid-19 than the other.
As of December 12, a total of 497 Covid-19 positive patients were hospitalized in the Palmetto State, according to SCDHEC data (up 14 percent from the previous week). Of those, 150 were in intensive care (up 11.1 percent from the previous week) and 77 were ventilated (up 6.9 percent from the previous week).
To put those numbers in context, a total of 2,615 Covid-19 positive patients were hospitalized on September 13 – the peak influx of the delta variant. Meanwhile, 2,290 Covid-19 positive patients were hospitalized on January 13 at the apex of the “dark winter” surge.
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On the fatality front, an estimated 12,454 South Carolinians have died “with” Covid-19 since the agency began tracking data last March – with another 1,951 deaths listed as probable for Covid-19. That’s a total of 14,405 deaths.
While the median age of Covid-19 deaths has certainly trended lower during the delta surge, the fact remains that if you are younger and in relatively good health, in the overwhelming majority of cases this virus is not a serious threat to you.
Also, a majority of deaths “with” Covid-19 – 60.9 percent, to be precise – have involved at least one other co-morbidity, or “conditions or causes in addition to Covid-19,” according to the latest data (.pdf) from SCDHEC.
Covid-19 numbers could see an uptick in the weeks to come in South Carolina as the virus’s reproduction rate – or “Rt” – is on the move in the state.
“Rt describes the average number of people that one individual is expected to infect, at any given time point in an epidemic,” Yale researchers who have been tracking this critical indicator explained. “When Rt is above 1, we expect cases to increase in the near future. When Rt is below one, we expect cases to decrease in the near future.”
As of this writing, South Carolina’s Rt currently stands at 1.09 – well below its delta peak of 1.62 on July 18-19 but markedly higher than its post-delta nadir of 0.83 in early October. As long as this number exceeds 1, look for cases to continue climbing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that New York Knights’ lid from ‘The Natural’ pictured above).
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