Is South Carolina Braced for COVID-19? A USC Dr. Says Yes

Feb 27, 2020

The World Health Organization keeps a running tab on cases of COVID-19 globally. As of Feb. 27, the agency counted more than 82,500, including 59 in the U.S. None have been reported in South Carolina.
Credit World Health Organization

As of Tuesday, the World Health Organization(WHO) identified 59 cases of COVID-19 in the United States. None are in South Carolina; but the case that has U.S. health officials wary is one from California. It was reported earlier this week and is the first to show up on American soil without being directly traceable to the person affected having any contact with a country or person known to already have it.

As of Thursday, health officials had no idea how the person contracted the illness

The spread of this particular strain of coronavirus has taken whole nations off-guard, and some health officials here in the United States as well. Dr. Melissa Nolan, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, says she did not think COVID-19 would have turned into a global pandemic. But she remains confident that if South Carolina eventually reports cases of the illness (so far, there have been none reported here), the state will be able to handle it.

“Every couple years, the state will pass legislation – October 2018 was the last time –for an influenza preparedness plan,” Nolan says. “Every time that’s passed it allows for resources and money to make sure that we have antiviral stockpiles so that if there was an outbreak it creates clinical physician health updates.”

COVID-19 is not influenza – which Nolan says is a far more pervasive danger, especially to older people – but she says the state’s emergency plan does allow for response to outbreaks of various kinds. In COVID-19’s case, South Carolina has respiratory masks to help stem the spread of the illness – for which there is yet no vaccine.

Nolan recently told USA Today that outbreak clusters in Iran and Italy could be valuable in helping researchers in other countries prepare for how to keep the coronavirus from spreading. The World Health Organization (WHO) made a public statement on COVID-19 on Thursday. It emphasizes coordination among nations and health officials. It specifically puts the travel and tourism industries squarely at the fore of stopping the spread.

“Tourism’s response needs to be measured and consistent, proportionate to the public health threat and based on local risk assessment, involving every part of the tourism value chain – public bodies, private companies and tourists, in line with WHO’s overall guidance and recommendations,” WHO stated.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier this month that global travel could take an $80 billion (USD) hit from COVID-19 this year.

WHO also acknowledged that healthcare workers are at the greatest risk for coming into contact with COVID-19 and advises medical establishments to follow safety and equipment standards designed to minimize the spread and impact of the illness. Those measures include refresher training for safety procedures and keeping an ample supply of masks. (Read more here)

Nolan’s advice for the public follows WHO’s advice: Wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands, and keep a social distance of a few feet when talking to someone. She says one of the reasons COVID-19 spread so broadly in China could possibly have to do with the custom of standing close when speaking to someone. Keeping back a few feet could help minimize your likelihood of catching the illness, she says.

As of Thursday, WHO put the number of cases of COVID-19 worldwide at more than 82,500 in 48 countries. About 79,000 cases are in China, where the strain began; 2,800 (and counting) cases have been fatal, again, almost all in China. There were no reported fatalities from the coronavirus in the United States as of Thursday morning.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, following WHO’s declaration on Jan. 31, declared a public health emergency because of COVID-19 that same day. On Wednesday, president Donald trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response to the coronavirus.