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COVID Surge Driving South Carolina Pediatric ICUs to Capacity

FILE - hospital
Nick Youngson
Alpha Stock Images

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is pushing South Carolina's pediatric ICUs to capacity, doctors said Monday.

A drop in childhood vaccinations due to the pandemic and an increase in other viral diseases as people have stopped social distancing and mask wearing are also contributing to the medical system's overload, said pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse.

All of those factors have created a "perfect storm" that has strained capacity at Prisma Health Children's Hospital in Columbia as more children are diagnosed with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, Greenhouse added.

"We're seeing all kinds of other things pop up that are crowding our offices, crowding the emergency rooms, crowding the floors, crowding the intensive care units," Greenhouse said.

Greenhouse and other pediatricians joined state health officials Monday to kick off South Carolina Immunization Awareness Week, urging residents to get inoculated against the coronavirus and help achieve herd immunity as vaccination rates have stalled.

Vaccination rates remain among the lowest in the country, with less than 45% of eligible South Carolinians fully vaccinated by the end of July, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said the state is still aiming for a 70% to 80% vaccination rate.

"If folks get vaccinated, this pandemic basically goes away," Simmer said. "If we have 100% vaccination rate — you know that we probably won't ever get close to that point — but certainly, if we had a higher vaccination rate in South Carolina, we would see fewer people."

Health officials recorded 1,794 new confirmed cases Monday. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in the state has increased 257.5%, approaching case numbers seen during last summer's peak.

Hospitals are contending with an influx of adult COVID-19 patients as well. Total hospitalizations in the state increased 136% between mid- to late July, from 192 to 453 people, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"We had one hospital that had to divert patients for a period of time because they ran out of space," Simmer said. "That's a problem, and that is a serious public health issue."

State leaders have said they aren't interested in statewide mask mandates or vaccine requirements. Gov. Henry McMaster has said South Carolina's approach is to provide people with accurate information and let them make their own decisions.

On Monday, Simmer concurred: "We have the governor on the same page. We know we what need to do. We need to get people vaccinated — he supports that," the health director said.