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DHEC not tracking health care worker infections, as lawmakers call for more protective equipment

DHEC says they're not specifically tracking health care worker infections, some hospital networks say they are.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — This week, MUSC in Charleston announced it had 34 employees whom tested positive for coronavirus.

The healthcare provider said it would not release identifying information on the staff members and was contacting patients who were at a high risk of exposure.

RELATED: 34 MUSC workers test positive for COVID-19

Pickens County Representative Neal Collins said it is vital to track infections in healthcare workers.

“It's very important, it's important to protect our frontlines as much as possible. Because, for not only today, but in the coming weeks, we have to have them operating at their best. And obviously, that would be without having the virus. I'm very concerned, I hope that our frontline-- they're protected as much as possible,” Collins said on a Tuesday phone call.

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However, the total number of infected healthcare workers in the state is not known.

In a statement, DHEC and SCEMD said, "While DHEC performs investigations on cases of COVID-19, healthcare workers are not separately tracked. On a case-by-case basis, we make recommendations to all positive cases regarding actions the individuals must take to limit further spread. We also work with healthcare facilities to follow CDC guidance regarding how to identify and treat exposed employees."

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, DHEC Dr. Linda Bell repeated DHEC was not specifically tracking health care workers with the disease.

Representative Mandy Powers Norrell said the state needs more data to combat the spread.

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“Data is our best friend in this. The more data we have, the more we can get in front of it. And try to prevent more people from becoming infected. And, the more data we have, the more we have a handle on exactly what we're looking at,” Powers Norrell said Tuesday.

“Yeah, and there are a number of us asking the questions and trying to find out the information from the different hospital systems on both, how many of our front-line workers are already positive? And also, what the supply chain is like and how-- what the standards are for each system,” Collins added.

Lexington Medical Center said it is tracking its employees who may contract the virus but did not say if any workers were positive. They directed WLTX to contact DHEC for cases.

DHEC maintained it is not tracking specific healthcare worker infections.

Prisma Health has not responded to WLTX’s request for the same information.

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina's public health websites also do not list the number of infected healthcare workers.

In the meantime, Powers Norrell and Collins are urging the state to ensure healthcare workers have the needed personal protective equipment.

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Powers Norrell said the need was even more obvious for her after a videocall dinner date with two friends, whom are doctors.

“And they both said to me, they expect, the odds are, they're going to get this. And, because they are seeing so many patients and their job is to deal with people who are sick. So, it's something that we've got to take care of our medical community. We've got to make sure they've got PPE,” Powers Norrell said.

In the last several days, the South Carolina National Guard helped distribute two shipments from the national stockpile.

RELATED: SC National Guard delivers protective equipment to the state

The shipments, which were distributed based on population data and medical need, included 31,476 gowns, 84,280 N95 respirators, 261,000 masks, and 80,900 gloves.

"Well there's a serious concern about the availability of personal protective equipment to satisfy the expectations of healthcare workers," Dr. Bell said at the Tuesday press conference.

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