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South Carolina to double virus testing, nursing homes the priority

"Before the virus was chasing us but now we're turning the tables and chasing the virus," Gov. Henry McMaster said.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and state health leaders said they are going to double the amount of coronavirus testing in the state over the next two months, including an increased focus on nursing homes.

McMaster gave an update on the state's response Wednesday afternoon.  McMaster said the state is going to be ramping up contact tracing and testing over the coming weeks. 

"Before the virus was chasing us but now we're turning the tables and chasing the virus," McMaster said. 

Dr. Joan Duwve, director of public health at DHEC, said so far there have been 68,000 tests performed in the state, which is about 1.2 percent of South Carolina's population. (10 percent of those tests were positive.) She said the goal is to increase that number to test 2 percent of the population, or about 110,000 tests per month. 

She said that will help them prevent hotspots before they begin to spread using contact tracers, who contact people who may have come in contact with COVID positive patients. It's estimated there will be about 1,000 contact tracers that will eventually work for the state. 

"We are confident that it will produce results that help us to contain this virus and get back to work, which we must do as quickly as possible." 

The effort will have four parts:

-Testing all patients and staff at nursing homes

-Expanding testing in minority or rural communities.

-Finding additional testing sites

Duwve said there are about 40,000 people who live in nursing homes and infections and death are continue to grow there. Nursing homes make up 12 percent of all coronavirus cases and 28 percent of all those who have died statewide.

RELATED: South Carolina to test all nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19

African-Americans made up 27 percent of the state's population, but 46 percent of COVID deaths. And rural counties are 9 of the top 10 counties in the state for cases per capita.

"Dhec is doing everything it can to stop COVID-19 and the key component of that is expanding testing," Duwve said. 

She said people with mild symptoms should get checked.

On Tuesday, McMaster's AccelerateSC task force that's coming up with ways to quickly and safely reopen the economy met. All five components, Resources, Protection, Governance, Response and Information came together. 

RELATED: AccelerateSC discusses expanding virus testing, broadband service in South Carolina

At the meeting, the state's health agency, DHEC, announced that they are anticipating 1000 contact tracers available by June 1st. Those are people who interview people who tested positive for the virus, to determine who they came in contact with. 

McMaster has already gone a long way toward reopening the state. On April 20, he reopened all retail stores, albeit with social distancing restrictions, and permitting local governments to lift restrictions on beaches.  

RELATED: SC governor reopens beaches, retail stores across the state

On Monday, May 4, McMaster lifted the state's mandatory home or work order with had been in place for nearly a month, changing it to voluntary. He also allowed outdoor dining at restaurants to resume that same day. 

RELATED: South Carolina restaurants reopen for outdoor dining

RELATED: South Carolina's mandatory home or work order no longer in effect

He's also stopped the restrictions on travel and short-term rentals for people coming from so-called "virus hotspots" in other parts of the state.

A state of emergency remains in effect for the entire state. 

RELATED: South Carolina state of emergency extended for 15 more days

McMaster said it's still being determined what to do about relaxing other rules, including hair salons, gyms, and public venues, but no decision has been made.

There is also a the new AccelerateSC website. It is a one-stop-shop for all things COVID-19 related. The website can be found here