Although South Carolina has no confirmed coronavirus cases yet, it’s understandable to worry if you or a loved one are showing symptoms. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, appears with flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. It has infected nearly 130 people in the United States and 93,000 people worldwide. More than 3,100 people have died. As of Wednesday afternoon, 13 people were being monitored for coronavirus in South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. There’s a lot of information out there and no reason to panic in Beaufort County, but here is local information from healthcare providers and state agencies on what to do if you start experiencing symptoms:
SHOULD I GO TO THE DOCTOR WITH CORONAVIRUS SYMPTOMS?
Local emergency rooms and urgent care centers are preparing for people calling about coronavirus symptoms, but they do not have testing kits available on site. All testing for COVID-19 must be coordinated with DHEC, which has test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At Doctors Care in Bluffton, Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island, a patient with symptoms of coronavirus will be seen by a physician and issued an N95 mask, according to the urgent care center’s COVID-19 policy. The center will then notify DHEC of the suspected case and arrange for a test. If the physicians suspect COVID-19, the patient will be sent home to isolate themselves. The center will help coordinate with DHEC to get a CDC approved test brought to the patient’s home. Many urgent care centers give this information over the phone and urge people with symptoms to call rather than visit the center because patients cannot be tested there. The physician at an urgent care center will be the one who determines whether the patient meets CDC criteria to be tested. That includes:
- People showing symptoms such as fever, coughing and difficulty breathing
- Health care workers or those who have had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset.
- People with a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of symptom onset The Food and Drug Administration authorized testing for COVID-19 in the United States under an emergency use authorization, which expands testing to a wider group of people with symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized testing for COVID-19 in the United States under an emergency use authorization, which expands testing to a wider group of people with symptoms.
SHOULD I GO TO THE HOSPITAL WITH CORONAVIRUS SYMPTOMS?
Local hospitals are preparing for coronavirus patients by coordinating with DHEC. “As with any communicable disease, as our patients enter the hospital in areas such as emergency department or registration, hospital staff are questioning all of their recent travel and detailing symptoms,” Hilton Head hospital told The Island Packet in a statement. But similarly to the urgent care centers, testing is not conducted at Hilton Head or Coastal Carolina hospitals. “If a patient presents at our hospital and meets CDC criteria, we work with our local health department and if appropriate, gather a sample for testing and provide it to a CDC appointed laboratory,” the statement said. Beaufort Memorial Hospital is in the first stage of its three-part plan, registered nurse Ashley Hildreth has said. That includes an additional screening of hospital visitors, evaluating hospital supplies and retraining employees on equipment protocol. The hospital has set up an email address, healthupdates@ bmhsc.org, to help provide the community with up-to-date, accurate information. Residents can ask questions about symptoms and what steps to take if symptoms arise, and a nurse will respond. Updates to screening procedures include more questions about travel and possible exposure risks, Hildreth said. Anyone arriving at the hospital with a sore throat, fever or cough will be given a mask and asked about their 30-day travel history, she said. If someone has traveled from an area with confirmed cases, that person is brought to a private room. A hospital infectious worker will ask more questions about travel and possible exposure to infected individuals. If the worker hears worrisome information, such as a recent trip to Italy, the hospital will contact SCDHEC, Hildreth said. SCDHEC then will decide whether the case rises to a level for testing. “Just because you have the symptoms and have traveled, it does not mean that DHEC is going to test you,” Hildreth said. “When you test outside that parameter, you get false positives and you run out of testing supplies.”
SOUTH CAROLINA CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES
DHEC has updated its website with a number of resources. The department has established a coronavirus helpline at 1-855-472- 3432. The helpline is for questions about the virus, not for people who have symptoms, and staff answers calls only between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Right now, people in South Carolina can be tested for COVID-19 using kits provided by the CDC. However, testing must be coordinated through DHEC and the Public Health Laboratory, located in Columbia. DHEC recommends taking these steps to stay healthy:
- Washing your hands
- Covering your cough
- Staying home when you’re sick
- Appropriately disposing tissues and other items that you’ve sneezed or coughed into.
Do you have questions about the coronavirus? The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette will get the answers for you.