South Carolina leads in new cases as Georgia breaks record

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 8:41 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 4:07 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Recent data shows South Carolina has the worst rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the country, just slightly ahead of Alabama and Tennessee.

And across the Savannah River, Georgia broke a record for hospitalizations as the region sees a surge in cases that are driven by the super-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

More than 260 people were admitted to Georgia hospitals Wednesday with COVID-19, the most in a day since the pandemic started. The state also reported the most COVID deaths in a day since early March.

Earlier this week, the Peach State passed its previous January high for positive tests based on a rolling seven-day average. Georgia Department of Public Health figures show the average of 9,641 per day tops the previous Jan. 11 high of 9,635 per day.

In South Carolina, Dr. Kurt Gambla, chief medical officer at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, says the Palmetto State’s ranking is not a good place to be.

“This is bad news. We don’t like to be at the bottom of the heap or have the dubious distinction right now of having the highest prevalence of new cases in the country,” he said.

“It makes us worry about the trend line, and it makes us worry about our resources, and where is this thing going to plateau,” he said.

He says it’s hard to tell what the cause is.

“It’s hard to know. We’re not the worst in terms of vaccinations. I think we’re about number 41, so we’re down near the bottom of the heap but we’re not the worst and so it’s hard to know. There’s a lot of variables in terms of what causes transmission and new cases,” said Gambla.

Consequences of the delta-driven surge

The delta variant is also striking children, who were mostly spared by earlier versions of the virus.

As a grim sign of the changing nature of the pandemic, the CSRA on Wednesday saw its first known child death here due to coronavirus. The death occurred at Children’s Hospital of Georgia.

We found 15 kids have died in South Carolina since the start of the pandemic and 15 more in Georgia. Compared to the 29,167 adults who have died across the two-state region, it’s obvious who’s at greater risk. But since experts are learning about the delta variant in real-time, we don’t fully know how serious this could become for our kids.

At Children’s, the number of cases is more than Dr. Jacob Eichenberger has ever treated at one time throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve got the kids so sick that they end up on heart lung bypass waiting for their body to recover from COVID and for their heart and lungs to take over again, we have kids on ventilators, we have kids just needed extra oxygen, we have kids needing to be put on their belly to breathe instead of their back,” he said.

The CSRA’s hospitals continue to be flooded by COVID inpatients, most of them unvaccinated.

Here’s a look at Thursday’s inpatient numbers for local hospitals:

  • University Hospital: 150 inpatients, 129 of whom are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Of the 29 patients in intensive care and 27 in ventilators, all but two are unvaccinated.
  • Augusta University Health: 123 inpatients, of whom five are children.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 43 inpatients, of whom 41 are unvaccinated. Eight inpatients are in intensive care.
  • Doctors Hospital: 83 inpatients, a decline of two from Wednesday.,
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: 17 inpatients, including 10 in intensive care.

University Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester noted that while her hospital’s inpatient total looks like a large jump from the day before, it’s not. She said that before Thursday, the hospital wasn’t counting people as COVID inpatients once they were longer contagious. Starting Thursday, the hospital began counting all inpatients still in the hospital who’d had COVID while they were there.

How schools are adjusting

With the virus now striking kids, more schools across the two-state region are dealing with high absences of employees and students.

Columbia County School System officials say 40 bus drivers are out right now, most with COVID-related absences. Officials say more than 60 staff members tested positive for COVID last week.

Several schools and districts have gone virtual.

On the flip side, Glascock County students are set to return to classrooms Tuesday. The district switched to virtual learning the second week of August. School leaders say they have seen a promising decline in cases. Masks are encouraged for returning students and teachers.

Not going virtual yet is the Aiken County school district — despite the fact that more than 4,000 students are in quarantine for COVID. That’s the highest number in quarantine we’ve seen so far this year from any county in our area. Parents are calling on leaders to act after the district released these new numbers.

Also in the news ...

SRS SHOTS: Coronavirus vaccinations are becoming a mandate for employment by the main contractor at the Savannah River Site. The announcement was made Thursday morning by Savannah River Nuclear solutions, management and operations contractor for the Department of Energy complex that employs 11,000 people.

JAIL LOCKDOWN: The Burke County Sheriff’s Office is locking down the jail for a 14-day quarantine amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the CSRA. Outside visits have been suspended along with phone usage to avoid exposure to others. Inmates are still able to utilize their tablet computers for individual communication.

GAME DELAY: Due to a confirmed positive COVID-19 case and related quarantine cases impacting the T. W. Josey High School football program, the game scheduled for Friday against Lucy Craft Laney High School will need to be rescheduled, school officials say.

NEW BOOSTER? Moderna has submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 vaccine booster, according to a statement from the company. “We are pleased to initiate the submission process for our booster candidate,” said CEO Stéphane Bancel.

KISS ILLNESS: The band Kiss is postponing its End of the Road tour after Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley tested positive for coronavirus. According to a statement on social media, the 72-year-old Simmons is experiencing “mild symptoms.” The band disclosed Stanley’s diagnosis earlier this week.

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