As state officials continue to report record-high deaths and infection rates of COVID-19 in parts of South Carolina, State Epidemiologist Linda Bell has been pleading for residents to wear masks and take the virus seriously.
“We must get our state’s escalating numbers under control,” she said in an emailed statement. “If we are not vigilant in wearing masks and staying physically distanced by others, we could see cases rise to levels I don’t care to imagine.”
Some counties and municipalities passed ordinances requiring people to wear masks in public, though Greenwood hasn’t taken these measures. Bell said the state’s public health officials are supportive of leaders who have passed these initiatives, and hope that even in places where it’s not required that businesses and residents will rally to support mask wearing.
“Each of us must make an intentional, unselfish decision to protect others from this virus by wearing masks and social distancing,” she said. “In a way, this pandemic is challenging each of us to consider our duty to one another. It is a duty that requires us to look out for the safety of others despite the inconvenience or sacrifice.”
Index-Journal reporters took a look at how residents are reacting to the call for diligent mask wearing, and found that at two locations in town, masks were more an exception than the rule.
While watching the “Market” entrance to the Walmart at 300 Bypass 25 NE, a reporter counted about 170 people who were not dressed as employees enter the business from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Of the people who went in, fewer than half were wearing masks — about 70 people had on some sort of face covering.
Some families went shopping with everyone wearing a mask, while others would have adults wearing masks and children uncovered, or vice-versa.
Out of the 266 customers who entered into the main entrance of Lowe’s Home Improvement at 513 Bypass 72 NW from 12-1 p.m. Wednesday, another reporter noticed 156 of them did not have protective mask coverings on.
Most of the employees who came in-and-out of the store were wearing masks, the elderly wore masks more frequently, children wore mask less frequently and a lot customers ran back to their vehicles to get their masks before entering the store. One man even put a mask he had in his hand into his shirt pocket before he walked into the store.
“If we don’t take action now, if we don’t social distance and wear our masks, then we will see more of our friends, family members and loved ones become ill, hospitalized and die,” Bell said. “This is a public health crisis and we have too few measures to prevent this deadly virus, so we have to use them.”
As case numbers continue to rise, Self Regional Medical Center is reporting a hospital bed utilization rate of 73% as of Thursday. On Thursday morning, the hospital had 208 patients in the hospital, 25 of whom were COVID-positive or awaiting COVID test results, said Mark Hyatt, director of marketing and public relations.
He said the hospital has a surge plan that allows them to expand their capacity to more than 300 beds, in the event that beds continue to fill up.
As of Thursday evening, Self had tested 9,441 people through the drive-thru testing line. 596 came back positive, with 1,312 pending results from Quest and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.