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Doctors, Columbia mayor urge people to stay home on New Year's Eve

With cases and hospitalizations at record levels, many doctors and leaders are urging people not to gather on New Year's.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Local doctors and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin are calling on people to stay at home on New Year's Eve in an effort to beat back the record rise of the coronavirus in the state.

"We are in the throes of a significantly dangerous phase in the pandemic," Benjamin said Wednesday during a news conference. "We hope that you do [New Year's] safely." 

This comes a day after Greenville city leaders and doctors there made a similar plea, saying that hospitals across the state were near a breaking point. 

RELATED: South Carolina mayor: New Year's Eve parties "horribly unfair" in pandemic

It's feared that people getting together for large parties or going to bars will only make matters much worse.  The city suggests people stay home, practice social distancing, and engage in virtual celebrations. 

"It's not the right time or the right year for a large get together," Prisma Health President and Chief Executive Officer Mark O’Halla.

O'Halla compared the health crisis we're facing to a Category 5 hurricane that would be bearing down on the state.

"If someone told South Carolina that we had a Category 5 hurricane that was going to make landfall, I guarantee everyone would take action to safeguard their family and get out of the way of the storm," O'Halla said. "This is a Category 5 type of situation." 

The City of Columbia says DHEC has confirmed over 120 deaths and 11,000 new COVID cases since Christmas Day. Doctors are worried things will get worse because the numbers out now do not reflect the people who may have gotten sick over Christmas, since it can take days for the virus to build up in people's system and people to begin displaying symptoms.

RELATED: Record 2,001 COVID-19 hospitalizations in SC, 31.4% percent positive cases

In numbers announced Wednesday, South Carolina  reached 2,000 hospitalizations, and all-time record and the first time the state has hit that number. The previous record, set back in July, was around 1,750. The hospitalizations were just under 1,000 when the month began, meaning the number has more than doubled in just 30 days. 

O'Halla said 453 patients are hospitalized in the Prisma Health System, which comprises multiple hospitals, mainly in the Midlands and the Upstate. He said during the previous peak in July, the highest number they saw was 310. 

Roughly 128 patients are hospitalized in the Midlands, which isn't quite at the record for that region, but it's getting close. And while doctors say they have the bed space to handle more patients, the problem comes with staffing.

"We're having trouble staffing those beds," O'Halla said. "It's hit everywhere in the state. It's not like there's a pool of nurses to move from hotspot to hotspot, because everywhere is a hotspot."

Making matters tougher is their own staff is dealing with COVID-19 as well. A total of 263 employees are out, either with illness or due to close content. About 92 of those clinicians, meaning doctors and nurses who take care of patients. They have brought in 100 agenda nurses, or temps, but O'Halla said all that's done is set them afloat.

RELATED: Sumter retirement home receives COVID-19 vaccines

Much of the problems currently seen in the state started after Thanksgiving, when people got together in large numbers and traveled the last time. Since then the number of deaths has gone up, with December being the third deadliest month in South Carolina since the pandemic began, and the worst since August. 

Meanwhile, the percent positive of coronavirus tests reached 31.4% Wednesday, continuing a trend of percentages above 25. Health experts say to be considered low spread, that number should be under 10 percent. 

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