First Shipment of Personal Protective Equipment Arrives in SC. More Expected, Over Next Three Weeks

Mar 23, 2020

The number of COVID19 Cases in South Carolina continued to rise over the weekend. As of Sunday, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) was investigating 195 cases and in a statement said it expected more cases to be documented.

“We want people to be prepared for more cases to occur and to continue to listen to and follow recommendations from public health officials,” said agency physician Dr. Brannon Traxler.

To help provide supplies for health care providers responding to COVID-19, the agency said the state had requested its full allocation of medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, nation's largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. This stockpile is for use in a public health emergency that is severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.

Boxes of personal protective equipment and other supplies for distribution in SC
Credit Sgt. Tim Andrews/South Carolina National Guard

SCDHEC received the first of its shipment, March 17 and reported on March 21 that shipment contained 55 pallets of N-95 masks, face shields, surgical masks, gowns and gloves. The National Guard loaded the personal protective equipment and other supplies on March 20 to be transported and distributed to all 46 counties. The agency said additional shipments may continue over the next three weeks.

During Governor McMaster’s March 17 Coronavirus Update, SCDHEC Director Rick Toomey said the highly specialized swabs used to test patients for the coronavirus are getting to be in short supply in some locations in the state.

“We’ve gotten reports from different locations that they’re running short on swabs,” Toomey said. “They are very specific for the test, that’s a critical part of the process.”

Toomey said the nasopharyngeal swabs are not Q-tips. In fact, they are very different. The swabs are long and skinny, to get to the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat, behind the nose. Explained in Kaiser Health News, the swabs “must be made of synthetic fiber and cannot have a wooden shaft. Nor can they contain calcium alginate, a substance typically used for swab tips in wound care.”

Toomey said the state has sufficient supplies of swabs to run the tests at the DHEC public health lab.

SCDHEC’s Public Health Laboratory has enough supplies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to test 2,000 samples. The lab has a routine capacity to test 80-100 specimens per day and the ability to double or triple that number as needed.

The state has also activated the reporting system for hospitals to update SCDHEC on the status of hospital beds. Toomey said hospitals are monitored every six hours for this census and as of 10am March 17 no hospital had reported any shortages.

For the latest information about DHEC’s COVID-19 response efforts, please visit scdhec.gov/COVID-19.