Both driveways at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary School were bumper-to-bumper Monday morning as hundreds of local residents lined up to have a 6-inch cotton swab inserted into their nostrils.
When large-scale coronavirus testing finally arrived in the Batesburg-Leesville area – a full three months after the global pandemic struck South Carolina and in the midst of a statewide resurgence of the disease – it seems that many our community was ready for the science. More than 500 people were tested by healthcare workers from Prisma Health and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in the second testing event held in Batesburg-Leesville within a week.
On the previous Monday, staff from DHEC and Lexington County Medical Center administered a total of 614 nasal swabs at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary. In all more than 1,100 people were tested between the two events.
“I’m glad to see that the community came out to take advantage of the free COVID screenings that we’re doing,” said Cassandra Waddell of Prisma Health. “We just see that people are very grateful that we’re coming out to the community to do this for them.”
Prisma Health and DHEC prepared for 600 tests at its Batesburg-Leesville, which had been postponed from a week earlier when they partnered on a two-day screening event at Benedict College in downtown Columbia.
“I am little bit shocked with the numbers here, but it’s a pleasantly shocked,” Ms. Waddell said.
A week earlier, concerned residents began lining up for the Lexington Medical Center drive-through testing two hours before the scheduled start.
“Right now, with the way that the (virus) numbers are climbing in the state, I think what this says is that these events are necessary,” said Lara Lott Moore, Vice-president of Community Medical Centers for Lexington Medical Center, who was on-site in Batesburg-Leesville in her face mask to monitor the testing. “We’ve been a huge partner in this community for a long time; our center’s been here for 20 years. So, it was important for us to be able to come out and support this community, and we’re happy to do it.”
With the line forming early, healthcare workers began testing almost an hour earlier than planned.
Ms. Moore said that Lexington Medical Center staff felt the appreciation all day from many of the concerned Batesburg-Leesville residents who nervously submitted to the uncomfortable 6-inch nasal swab. All of them came to get a real scientific answer to the question, “Am I infected with COVID-19?”
“I think they’re very grateful,” she said. “They’re grateful that there’s an opportunity for them to be able to have this test right here in their community and that we were able to do it for them. Hopefully, we’ve made this a pretty good experience. It’s never fun to have a swab done, but I think our folks are doing a good job with it. We try to be extremely patient-friendly, and everybody’s been very appreciative of what we’re doing.”
In the past month since Gov. Henry McMaster lifted widespread restrictions across South Carolina, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has spiked as businesses and many public spaces have reopened. As Batesburg-Leesville area residents were lining up to get tested, DHEC announced 1,320 new cases Monday.
By Tuesday, that number had increased by another 1,741, which brought the total number of infections statewide since March to 36,297 people – an increase of more than 10,000 new infections diagnosed around South Carolina in a week period.
Of those, 735 people have lost their lives. As of Wednesday morning, more than 1,020 hospital beds across the state were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Last week, DHEC announced plans to expand its COVID-19 testing schedule around the state through the end of the year. The state health agency increased its testing goal from 110,000 residents per month to 165,000 monthly by December.
“Expansive testing is critical in quickly identifying hot spots, catching outbreaks before they spread, and indicating where resources are most needed in the state,” DHEC stated in its release of the new goal. “Increased testing also helps provide a better understanding of the overall prevalence of the virus within South Carolina.”
Critics of the rising number of infections have tried to write off the recent spike as being caused by increased testing. However, as overall case counts have increased, so too has the “percent positive” – the number of confirmed cases compared to the total number of tests administered.
Testing for COVID-19 is designed to identify undiagnosed cases, particularly in carriers of the virus who may be personally asymptomatic.
DHEC reported that on Monday and Tuesday of this week, about 18,000 tests were conducted statewide; the percent positive averaged 19 percent on Tuesday and 15 percent on Monday. At the height of the statewide coronavirus-inspired shutdown, the percent positive usually hovered around 3 percent.
“I think we’re in for a long haul,” Ms. Moore said, watching the cars roll by at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary. “I think that’s why it’s so important for all the local communities to partner with folks like us so we can come out here and help and hopefully get these folks to understand that it’s important to know ‘Am I positive or not?’ and ‘Do I need to be quarantined?’ But also just to remind them how to be safe.”
State health officials – and frontline healthcare workers who are most at risk treating patients – are urging everyone to continue wearing face masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the continued spread of the disease.
“With the numbers spiking, we have seen that people are being a little more conscientious,” Ms. Waddell said, “ but we do want to stress that everyone needs to wear a mask and everyone needs to social distance – especially when you are going to be out in the public. To flatten the curve, we need to do everything that we’ve been hearing since March.”
With strategies such as the pop-up Batesburg-Leesville testing clinics, as well as more than 167 permanent screening centers across the state, officials from both DHEC and its healthcare partner such as Prisma Health and Lexington Medical Center are continuing to adapt to the ever-evolving challenge – and continued threat to public health – posed by COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of conversation going on,” Ms. Moore said. “For the foreseeable future, I can see us being out here doing whatever we need to do – whether that’s later when a vaccine is available or more testing. We’ll let the community dictate what that need is…At this point, it’s a matter of what the numbers tell us and what the community tells us they need.”