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While South Carolina COVID-19 daily deaths continue to decline, Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is projecting total deaths will rise by approximately 50 deaths beginning in June and running through August. The U.S. added 1,415 new deaths for a total 100,446 deaths, updated May 28. In South Carolina, the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 is 10,623 with 466 deaths. Most counties have less than 20 deaths with Richland and Greenville reporting the highest with 66 and 55 deaths respectively.

On May 31, DHEC reported Williamsburg County having 233 cases and 14 deaths, at least 12 of which were residents at the Carlyle Senior Care of Kingstree. DHEC  prioritizes the identification of COVID-19 infections in nursing homes and assisted living facilities because the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 is common in these types of facilities, and the residents who live there are at high risk for developing complications or death from COVID-19 infection.

According to the S.C. State Emergency Response Team, Joint Information Center, LabCorp is assisting DHEC in the universal testing of all 194 nursing homes in the state. Once a facility receives all the necessary testing supplies from LabCorp, those facilities that have the capabilities to do so collect the specimens for testing themselves, as all nursing homes have trained medical professionals on staff. These medical professionals are instructed on properly performing nose swabs for testing. DHEC assists with specimen collection at facilities as assistance is requested. Once the specimens are collected, the specimens are returned to LabCorp, which conducts the testing, then provides the results back to the facility and to DHEC. The agency is currently on target for all of the state’s 194 facilities to complete testing by the end of May.

As of May 27, a total of 187,788 total tests have been conducted in the state (by both DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory and private labs).

DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory is operating extended hours and is testing specimens seven days a week. The Public Health Laboratory’s current timeframe for providing results to health care providers is 24-48 hours.

Currently, 3,112 inpatient hospital beds are available and 7,250 are in use, which is a 69.97% statewide hospital bed utilization rate. Of the 7,250 inpatient beds currently used, 397 are occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19.

According to DHEC, based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19 (PIC) decreased from 18.5% during week 19 to 12.0% during week 20 but remained above baseline. This is the fourth week of a declining percentage of deaths due to PIC, but this percentage may change as more death certificates are processed, particularly for recent weeks.

Nationally, the percentages of laboratory specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 decreased compared to last week. While the number of specimens from children <18 years of age tested is low (<5% of all specimens tested in public health and commercial laboratories), the percentage of these testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 in this age group has either trended upward or remained relatively stable in recent weeks. Other age groups have seen declines in percent positivity during the same time period.

The overall cumulative COVID-19 associated hospitalization rate is 67.9 per 100,000, with the highest rates in people 65 years of age and older (214.4 per 100,000) followed by people 50-64 years (105.9 per 100,000). Hospitalization rates are cumulative and will increase as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

DEHC continues recommend practicing social distancing and wash hands. Social distancing means staying home as much as possible, staying at least 6 feet away from other people while in public, and avoiding gatherings with many people present. Everyone should wash their hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.  These are the best ways to protect yourself and our communities from the spread of COVID-19.  Brief close contact (being within 6 feet for a short time) is not sufficient to spread the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations regarding the use of cloth face coverings. While these measures are optional, they may help reduce the spread of the virus. They are not intended to replace social distancing and hand washing recommendations which people must continue to use to protect themselves.

Homemade masks may reduce the amount of virus one breathes out and may prevent you from touching your nose and mouth. This measure is recommended to be used in situations where social distancing may be difficult to maintain like at a grocery store, pharmacy, etc. It is intended to protect others from people who may be infected with the virus and able to spread it but not showing symptoms yet.

People wearing masks should not feel a false sense of security. The masks should be worn to help protect others. It’s important to understand that these recommendations do not allow for someone to go out in public if they are having symptoms. Individuals with symptoms should continue to isolate at home, but they may consider a homemade mask when leaving to get medical care if a homemade mask is all they have.