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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

SC Hospitals Struggle With Staffing As COVID-19 Cases Rise

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Photo by Natanael Melchor on Unsplash
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COLUMBIA, S.C.  — South Carolina hospitals are short-staffed and low on testing supplies in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic, administrators told U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday, as the state saw its second-highest daily number of new confirmed cases.

After a briefing with the South Carolina Hospital Association, Graham told reporters he would push to speed up testing, secure money for hospitals to replace lost revenue and ensure schools have the means to reopen safely this fall as Congress works on its next phase of federal pandemic relief. Graham also called for tax credits for U.S. production of personal protective equipment and liability reform to protect hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients from litigation.

Cases in the state have spiked since Memorial Day weekend. Health officials reported 2,205 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 23 additional deaths Tuesday, totaling 60,220 confirmed cases and 984 deaths since the pandemic began. Experts say official counts likely capture only a portion of those who have been infected.

Hospitals are facing several major obstacles, including concerns that those inland may not have enough beds to take on patient transfers from hot spots such as in Myrtle Beach, said Thornton Kirby, the state hospital association's CEO.

Contact tracers have found staffers who test positive are being infected not at work but through community spread, Kirby said. Employees exposed to the virus cannot work before receiving their test results, a lag that also decreases the number of staff — and therefore beds — available.

Patients who have tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19 now occupy 1,550 of the state's 7,976 hospital beds in use, with 203 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

At least one hospital system has suspended elective surgeries this month to free up staff for COVID-19 patients. The state hospital association has estimated it will lose a total of $2.3 billion in unreimbursed COVID-related costs and revenues by the end of the year.

Graham emphasized Tuesday that schools should reopen this fall, calling for more testing to help ensure they do so safely.

School districts are preparing for the upcoming semester amid growing concerns about the effects of the virus on children. Over the weekend, South Carolina reported its first death of a child younger than 5 because of the virus as well as two initial cases of a COVID-related inflammatory syndrome in children.

Graham on Tuesday maintained that people should wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing to reduce the burden on doctors and nurses, likening the measures to a wartime effort. He refrained from calling on government leaders to mandate a statewide mask requirement, as Gov. Henry McMaster has refused to order in recent months. Many municipalities have implemented their own requirements on face coverings.

In Charleston, one of the state's hot spots that had previously passed a mask rule, the City Council is slated to vote Tuesday on additional emergency measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The proposed measures include limiting capacity at restaurants and bars to 50% and increasing penalties for noncompliance.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.