Horry County’s coronavirus cases have remained steady despite few, if any, remaining local restrictions and a bustling spring break season reminiscent of pre-pandemic seasons. But nearby health experts warn against getting too comfortable.
Health experts warn of another wave of cases as the more contagious variants of the virus are becoming the most prominent in the U.S. and vaccines may be giving people a false sense of security.
Masks are ‘necessary evil’ as Grand Strand continues vaccinating residents
“I’m tired of the masks, I hate it, I don’t like doing it,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center. “But it’s a necessary evil in order to get to where we need to go.”
Bars, restaurants and other businesses in Myrtle Beach and some surrounding cities have no coronavirus restrictions left, allowing people to pack indoors without masks. The cases in Horry County haven’t surged as they have in other places, like Chicago, where further restrictions are targeted at young people in hopes of mitigate the spread.
The last time Horry County recorded more than 100 cases in a single day was in late February, and the most recent daily caseloads hover between 15 and 30. That doesn’t mean the virus is gone, though, health experts warn.
Horry County has reported 28,769 coronavirus cases and 440 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The county has added 229 cases in the last week and 133,359 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
At Conway Medical Center, 11 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized as of Sunday, six of which were in the intensive care unit and one on a ventilator. Tidelands Health followed a similar pattern, with 13 COVID patients hospitalized, four in the ICU as of Friday. Horry County has seen 5.5% of its coronavirus cases hospitalized, but local hospital representatives say they’ve seen only a minimal increase in hospitalizations lately as opposed to a “surge” seen in other parts of the country.
Conway Medical Center has given out nearly 44,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and Tidelands has administered more than 64,000 doses.
Tidelands chief operating officer Gayle Resetar said last week saw a slight uptick in hospitalizations and she urged people to continue getting tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19 or are exposed.
That doesn’t compare to what the health systems saw this winter when the COVID-19 spread was at its worst following the winter holidays. Horry County and the rest of South Carolina are faring well compared to other areas of the country during what may be another surge, according to DHEC public health director Dr. Brannon Traxler. She added the state isn’t “out of the woods” from a potential spike in cases spurred by gatherings over the Easter holiday and spring break season.
What about the coronavirus variants?
Local hospitals don’t have the ability to test for the coronavirus variants, which are believed to be more contagious, and DHEC tracks the variants by region instead of by county. The Pee Dee region of South Carolina has 86 cases of the variants, 31 of the variant that originated in South Africa and 55 of the variant that originated in the United Kingdom.
The best way to work toward eradicating the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated, health officials agree. While Horry County is one of the top counties in the state for its vaccination rate, it’s not close enough to herd immunity range to stop being vigilant, Resetar said. The percentage of people with immunity to be considered “herd immunity” level ranges depending on the virus, but Resetar said it’s expected to be between 60 and 80% of the population for COVID-19. More than 47% of Horry County residents older than 15 have been vaccinated, according to DHEC.
“A spike in cases and a spike in hospitalizations could cause us to go backwards, and we’re just not ready for that yet,” Resetar said. “We’re just not there yet. We’re not to herd immunity yet.”
The Johnson & Johnson brand of the COVID-19 vaccine was paused in South Carolina last week at the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that isn’t expected to severely impact Horry County’s vaccination rate.
To find a COVID-19 vaccine site, visit https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov/ or call 1-866-365-8110. For a list of walk-in vaccines available near Myrtle Beach, click here.