LAURENS — Sixteen percent of the staff and clients at the Whitten Center have been infected by COVID-19.
Mary Poole, state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs’ director, confirmed the Whitten Center had few COVID-19 cases until two weeks ago when the current surge began, which mirrored the conditions on the ground in Laurens County in general, she said. Currently, 39 consumers — a term the center uses for its client base — and 57 staff members have been infected by the virus.
Since the infection surge began two weeks ago, Poole said some of the earlier infected people will soon be coming out of quarantine.
“Hopefully, this will start lowering the net infection cases, as well as permit staff to start returning to work,” she said.
This is the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs’ second major surge in COVID-19 cases at one of its five intermediate care facilities in South Carolina. The department’s Pee Dee Regional Center in Florence had a similar surge in April, which was recently reduced to zero. Poole said that center’s number of cases also mirrored the conditions of the county, and in April, Florence County would have been classified as a hot spot for COVID-19.
“Whitten is using the same fundamental infection control protocols to control its current surge in cases,” she said.
Poole also said the Whitten Center staff has responded by covering the shifts of those that have tested positive for COVID-19. She said the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs will be using resources from other regional centers as needed and that there is no shortage of personal protective equipment available to staff.
“As the front line of defense for COVID-19 during this national emergency, Whitten health care workers will continue to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens despite the current surge in cases,” she wrote in an email. “Whitten staff have been courageous during this surge of cases, just as our staff at the Pee Dee Center were during their spike in cases. They are heroes.”