In the parking lot of Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, South Carolina, construction workers have been working around the clock to erect a series of inflatable white and blue medical tents as doctors inside scramble to contain the wave of coronavirus patients.
The rural hospital, which serves a population twice the size of Rhode Island, is nearly full, forcing officials to ask the National Guard to erect the state’s first field hospital, comprising four tents to provide overflow capacity for at least a dozen virus patients at a time.
While the alternative care site won’t be usable for up to three weeks, Regional Medical Center President and CEO Charles Williams said the precautionary measure is necessary as the state continues to see a surge of COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm the public health system.
“At some point, we must do something, because there’s only so many beds, so many staff, we must do something,” Williams said in a Monday press conference, noting that there were only eight beds available in the hospital. “We must do everything we can to actively plan to care for our patients.”
The dire situation in Orangeburg is a microcosm for the state, which has continued to shatter COVID-19 records. As one of the earliest states to loosen coronavirus restrictions, South Carolina is now struggling to address a brewing COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, Gov. Henry McMaster this week announced a slew of businesses could reopen. Festivals, concerts, movie theaters, stadiums, gymnasiums, concert halls, performing arts centers, parks, and racetracks can reopen at 50 percent capacity.
“Hollywood is knocking and movie theaters will be ready to open,” McMaster said Wednesday. “They will have to follow these rules. Go see your favorite movie, have some distancing, you’ll have to wear a mask.”
At least 1,551 people have died and 85,423 more have been infected with the coronavirus in South Carolina—with one in five tests returning a positive result. On Wednesday, the state had a roughly 20 percent increase in the number of new cases overnight, with 1,666 cases. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Wednesday that 79 percent of ICU beds were occupied—with 404 of them being used by COVID-19 patients.
The number has tripled in the past two months, overwhelming emergency departments and their staff who are seemingly unable to keep up with a wave of new cases surging daily as government officials put a band-aid on the problem. Last week, the South Carolina National Guard announced they would provide staffing support to five hospitals along the Grand Strand, sending in at least 40 medics to “expand their ability to care for patients in need.”
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