COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has been working tirelessly since the first two coronavirus case were reported in SC, on March 6, 2020.
No one was quite ready for the impacts COVID-19 would have on normal life, but SCEMD is no stranger to crises and disasters.
"I think for most of us there was a huge learning curve last March in trying to work through the issues,” Kim Stenson, director of Emergency Management said.
On March 6, 2020, one year ago, the first two suspected COVID-19 cases were reported in South Carolina. Since then, Stenson says the state has come a long way.
“It's kind of hard to believe it's been a whole year we've been doing this, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel now,” Stenson said.
The team working inside the building off Fish Hatchery Road is familiar with all types of disasters. From floods and tornados to hurricanes, they used that knowledge to prepare for the pandemic. But it wasn't easy.
"Fortunately, unfortunately we've had several hurricanes in the last several years, so we have a pretty good understanding of what we need to do and how we need to do it,” Stenson said. “With COVID, it was very different it was very theoretical we did have plans. DHEC has plans for a pandemic, but they never actually been validated in the real world. And you can't possibly really validate those kinds of plans until you actually experience it."
From vaccine distribution, gathering personal protective equipment (PPE) and planning for medical surges, EMD has been hands on all year.
“When we started this operation about a year ago, we had absolutely no personal protective equipment in any warehouse or any stand by reserves,” Stenson said. “Now we have a little over 2 million N95 mask. When hospitals don't have enough capacity to handle their patients, what we've done is worked out with hospitals, we've helped them basically expanded their foot print within their building."
Stenson said the state is in a much better place compared to where we started.
“The old saying you don't know what you don't know is very difficult, well we know quite a bit now,” Stenson said. “I’m not saying we know everything, but we know a lot more today than we did a year ago."
Stenson said it's also important for South Carolinians to remember another kind of disaster could happen at any moment, so each person should always be prepared for anything.