More than 600 tested at first COVID-19 screening in B-L

Healthcare workers prepare to administer a nasal swab test during the drive-through screening event Tuesday at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary. Staff photo by Tony Baughman

More than 600 people lined up Tuesday for the first large-scale coronavirus testing event in the Batesburg-Leesville area since the global pandemic struck South Carolina more than three months ago.

Healthcare professionals from Lexington County Medical Center and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) administered a total of 614 nasal swab screenings during the six-hour event at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary School. People began lining up for the drive-through testing two hours before the scheduled 10 a.m. start.

“Right now, with the way that the 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.

Last week, Lexington Medical Center stepped in at the urging of state Sen. Katrina Shealy after Prisma Health suddenly canceled a Batesburg-Leesville testing event it had scheduled for last Saturday. Prisma chose instead to pour its resources into another two-day testing event in downtown Columbia.

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 890 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections statewide since March to 26,572 people. Of those, 673 have died.

On Monday, 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 5,122 people were tested Monday, and the percent positive was 17.4 percent. 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.”

With strategies such as the Batesburg-Leesville testing clinic, as well as more than 167 permanent screening centers run by healthcare partners across the state, officials from both DHEC and Lexington Medical Center are continuing to adapt to the ever-evolving challenge 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.”

Folks who were tested Tuesday can expect to receive their results – either positive or negative – within 48 to 72 hours. Those diagnosed with coronavirus will be asked to quarantine for at least 14 days to help prevent further spread of the potentially deadly disease.

Cars began lining up at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary School at 8 a.m. Tuesday for the COVID-19 testing event.