COLUMBIA, S.C. — Governor Henry McMaster is urging South Carolinians not to panic, despite a rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations.
At a press conference on COVID-19 at the State House Wednesday, the governor said, "as far as the economy and as far as the safety of the people, we are in excellent shape.”
However, state health leaders disagree.
The latest coronavirus surge in South Carolina has set record case numbers and is causing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Governor McMaster argues things are looking up because South Carolina is doing much better with the COVID-19 pandemic than it was last winter.
"Hospitals are doing well, they’re prepared, and the occupancy rates in the hospitals are better and lower than they were [a year ago],” said McMaster.
While slightly fewer hospital beds are taken up by COVID patients in this winter surge compared to last year's, there recent spike in hospitalizations is concerning State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.
"The number of adults and children being hospitalized and being admitted to ICUs is increasing,” Bell explained Wednesday.
Plus, the South Carolina Hospital Association told News19 that many hospitals are experiencing workforce shortages, which makes handling the increase in patients more difficult.
Dr. Bell added that the omicron variant is causing more mild cases overall but it’s still overburdening hospitals and raising concern.
"People are still dying from COVID," Bell said sternly. "It doesn’t matter what the variant is. What matters most is these are preventable deaths."
While the governor has not raised concern over the record-high cases, Dr. Bell said "it is our public health duty to raise alerts for people to do more to help reduce disease spread."
Both McMaster and Bell recognized issues with COVID-19 testing and turnaround times for results. Dr. Bell said DHEC is actively working to reduce wait times and warns people to expect delays. They're also looking into expanding free testing opportunities, but don't know if they have the staff to do so, according to Bell.
McMaster said that the Biden Administration is promising to send half-a-billion new tests to states, but they don't know details yet.
Dr. Bell urges people to stay safe and get vaccinated to help protect themselves and lessen the burden on healthcare workers.
Governor McMaster said he will not issue a state of emergency, any mandates or require businesses or schools to shut down because "it is not necessary."