‘There is no statistic for grief’: S.C. hits 10,000 COVID deaths

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:42 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 4:54 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - South Carolina hit a somber milestone Wednesday with 10,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

It happened as the ultra-contagious delta variant of coronavirus floods local hospitals with a new wave of patients, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

Numbers tell the story

Dr. Jose Vazquez, infectious disease specialist as Augusta University Health, told News 12 on Wednesday that 95 percent of the people being hospitalized now have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Despite the fact that some vaccinated people still get infected, Vazquez says this number of “breakthrough” cases is low when compared to the overall total.

“Very few have been admitted with breakthrough,” he told News 12.

Of those who have been vaccinated but ended up in AU Medical Center with COVID anyway, only two have died, he said.

He also told News 12:

  • The hospital stay for COVID patients can range from five to 80 days.
  • The number of people on ventilators at AU Health is about the same as during the previous surge, greater than 30.
  • None of the three available vaccines is better or worse than the others at fighting the delta variant.

The toll in South Carolina

The Palmetto State reached 10,000 COVID deaths Wednesday as the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 14 confirmed deaths and one death likely caused by COVID, along with 1,680 new cases.

“While statistics are useful to measure data, there is no statistic for grief or comfort in a milestone for those who have lost family members and loved ones,” DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said in a letter to South Carolina residents.

The agency said in a briefing Wednesday that all counties in the state have a high level of disease spread now and that hospitalizations have tripled in the past three weeks.

In June, there were days when daily cases statewide were in the double digits, but now they’re well over 1,000. At the current rate, officials said the state could soon see 5,000 to 6,000 new cases per day.

Other areas of concern cited in the DHEC briefing:

  • Although many students in the state are still on summer break, health experts are concerned about the transmission rate in schools, which state leaders have banned from requiring masks. Experts said during the briefing that outbreaks can be avoided if schools and parents comply with guidelines.
  • Long-term care facilities, which were hit especially hard at the start of the pandemic, are again seeing more cases among staff members and residents. The experts said more employees at the facilities need to be vaccinated because they’re the source of COVID infections in the facilities
  • Unvaccinated pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill with COVID. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged all pregnant women Wednesday to get vaccinated.

Simmer said in his letter to residents that the only way to prevent more deaths is for people to get vaccinated against the virus. He said nearly 2 million South Carolinians have been fully vaccinated, but that’s just 45 percent of those who are eligible.

“Although one month ago it looked like the pandemic was improving, the arrival of the delta variant has created a surge in new cases and deaths that we have to take seriously,” Simmer said. “Until we reach a critical percentage of South Carolinians vaccinated that can stifle COVID-19′s spread, we are not out of danger.”

Simmer said the current vaccines are safe, reliable and available, and they’re the best chance at preventing more infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“Please, get fully vaccinated if you aren’t, and continue to follow CDC and DHEC guidelines about universal mask use indoors in public places,” he said.

Health officials in the DHEC briefing lamented the relatively low vaccination rate in the state, saying vaccine doses have gone to waste because they expired as demand was low.

“South Carolinians have a well-deserved reputation for working together and taking care of each other,” Simmer said. “Now more than ever, we need to do so. If we do, we will defeat COVID-19, which has already taken so much from so many.”

How hospitals are coping

Hospitals in the CSRA continued to be swamped by coronavirus patients Wednesday as Georgia saw 4,362 new cases, 31 deaths and 1780 hospitalizations, bringing the Peach State up to 972,513 cases and nearly 19,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

University Hospital in Augusta had 94 COVID-19 inpatients Wednesday. That’s three more than Tuesday but 30 more from a week earlier and 91 more from about a month ago.

The 94 patients on Wednesday weren’t all the same ones from the day before.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said the hospital discharged 13 COVID inpatients Tuesday but admitted 16 new patients.

“Not slowing yet,” she said of the pace of admissions.

With health experts saying more vaccinations are our ticket out of the pandemic, Sylvester pointed out that the hospital cafeteria will host a vaccination clinic from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday. Reservations are encouraged at https://university_hospital_covid_clinic_aug-11.eventbrite.com.

For other options on where to get a shot in the CSRA, visit https://www.wrdw.com/2021/04/16/covid-19-vaccine-where-you-can-get-a-shot-in-2-state-region.

COVID inpatient counts for other local hospitals on Wednesday include:

  • Augusta University Medical Center: 79 adults, up two from Tuesday, and four children, down three from Tuesday.
  • Doctors Hospital: 52, up 12 from Tuesday.
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: 44, unchanged from Tuesday
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 31, down four from Monday, when the hospital last provided numbers.

The chart below shows COVID hospitalizations in the Georgia portion of the CSRA. The spike at the right edge shows how rapidly the delta variant has fueled the current surge.

Also in the news ...

ALLEN VISITS VA HOSPITAL: U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Augusta, was in town Wednesday for a visit to the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He spoke about the importance of vaccination in the fight against COVID. “We kind of need to get on the same page,” he said. “This has become a political issue, and that’s not good.”

Rep. Rick Allen (in flag mask) walks through the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center during a...
Rep. Rick Allen (in flag mask) walks through the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center during a visit on Aug. 11, 2021.(WRDW)

AIRLINES’ DECISION: Delta, American and Southwest airlines won’t be implementing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees. One airline, United, is requiring every employee to get vaccinated. Delta said 75% of its workforce is already vaccinated even without a companywide policy. That airline and American are the two that serve Augusta.

BOOSTER OK EXPECTED: NBC reported that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to amend the emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines Thursday to allow people with compromised immune systems to get a third dose, according to two sources familiar with the plans.

FULTON MANDATE: Georgia’s most populous county is considering mandating COVID-19 vaccines or frequent tests for its employees. Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts says incentives to get vaccinated aren’t working. A number of hospital systems have mandated vaccines for employees in Georgia, as have some private colleges and universities and other employers.

SAVANNAH OPTIONS: As the number of new COVID-19 cases rises in Chatham County, Savannah leaders are weighing all options when it comes to regulating events in public or city-owned spaces. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said the city will look at taking actions beyond the mask mandate and encouraging businesses to require masks indoors.

TREATMENT HOPE: The World Health Organization says it will soon test three drugs used for other diseases to see if they might help patients sickened by the coronavirus. They include artesunate, a malaria drug, the cancer drug imatinib, and infliximab, currently used in people with diseases of the immune system.

YOUTUBE TROUBLE: Sen. Rand Paul has been suspended from YouTube after making controversial comments about COVID-19 and masks in a video last week. The Kentucky Republican blasted the deletion of his video, which YouTube said made false claims.

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