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Drive-through commencement, new COVID cases in Columbus; DHEC plans nursing home tests as Loris area records new infections


     As high school seniors in Columbus County prepare for drive-through commencement and COVID-19 case counts rise in Columbus and Horry counties, South Carolina health officials have set out to test every resident and staff member at every nurse home in the state.

     This post will cover these topics and may be updated:

  • Drive-through commencements in Columbus
  • Seven more COVID cases Columbus, two hospitalized
  • DHEC plans to test residents, staff in every SC nursing home.
  • Two new Horry COVID cases in Loris Zip Code

 Drive-through commencements in Columbus

     Commencement at South Columbus High School and the other high schools in Columbus County will be much different than any other, with a drive-through option presented to the Class of 2020 approved by the Columbus County Board of Education meeting virtually Tuesday.

     Supt. Dr. Deanna Meadows said the second proposal, putting off commencement until around Labor Day in hopes that more traditional graduation exercises could be held, got half the support in an online-poll of seniors from South, East and West Columbus high schools.

     Seniors favoring commencement this month, not in the fall, cast 151 votes for that option, with 76 voting to wait.

     Each of the high schools will plan for some kind of a tribute for the Class of 2020 this fall, perhaps during a home football game, if circumstances allow, Meadows said.

     Locations and procedures will vary at the schools, students and families will be notified of the particulars, Meadows said.

     Concerns on what will be feasible in the fall, and worries that seniors heading off to the military or to college might not be able to return later in the year, seemed to propel the decision to hold commencement this month, Meadows said.

     In each case, she said, each graduate will be allowed on campus in a single family vehicle, with family members, in a procession that will drive up to an outdoor stage.

     At South Columbus that stage will likely be on the football field.

     Student speeches and some other parts of the proceedings may be prerecorded, Meadows said, with all of it to be livestreamed online and possibly broadcast on the school system’s FM radio station.

     Seniors will also have access to a recording of the livestream, Meadows said.

     Because of social distancing guidelines in Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Orders and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not likely that other family members will be allowed to leave their vehicles, Meadows said. Students and others on the stage will be distanced, too, at least six feet apart.

     Meadows said school leaders have consulted, and will continue to work with the Columbus County Health Department and law enforcement on the logistics of commencement.

     Subject to change, the current commencement schedule is:

  • South Columbus – 10 a.m. on May 23
  • East Columbus – 6 p.m. on May 21
  • Columbus Career and College Academy – 10 a.m. on May 22 at Southeastern Community College
  • West Columbus – 6 p.m. on May 22

 Seven more COVID cases Columbus, two hospitalized

     With seven more people testing positive for COVID-19, a total of 184 Columbus County residents are known to have contracted the virus, the Columbus County Health Department reported Wednesday.

     “One of the new cases is connected with a congregate living facility in Columbus County, one case is connected to the COVID-19 outbreak at the nearby Smithfield Foods facility, one case is a healthcare worker, one case is connected to a known positive case, and the source of infection could not be found for the other three cases,” the health department said in a news release. “Two of the new cases have been hospitalized”

     Four of the newly positive cases came from the Tabor City area, Zip Code data released by the NC Department of Health & Human Service showed, that number now at 56. More than at least 38 of those people are residents of Tabor Commons Assisted Living, two staff there, though both numbers are likely to be higher when DHHS next updates its congregate care data on Friday.

     Zip Code data showed Fair Bluff, Chadbourn, Whiteville, and Lake Waccamaw with newly confirmed cases Wednesday.

     Eleven Columbus County residents who tested positive for the coronavirus have died. There have been recoveries, with some details about them expected to be released Thursday.

     “With the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to rise in Columbus County, we are asking the public to take the necessary measures to stop the transmission of COVID-19,” the health department news release said. “The Columbus County Health Department would like to remind everyone of the recommended measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which are:

  • Social distancing (e.g. avoiding crowds, self-quarantining, no mass gatherings, only going out in public when necessary)
  • Wearing a mask or face covering when in public places
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw it away, and then wash your hands
  • Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose

     Statewide there are 12,758 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 99 North Carolina counties Wednesday, up by 502 from Tuesday, the DHHS reported. There were 477 North Carolina deaths attributed to COVID-19 Wednesday, 25 more than Tuesday; with 516 current hospitalizations, that number down by 18 from the day before.

     Regularly updated information from the Columbus County Health Department is available on its Facebook page here.

     Columbus County Health Department’s COVID-19 Call Center is also operating from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 910-640-6615 ext. 7045 or 7046.

DHEC plans to test residents, staff in every SC nursing home.

     Plans are in place to test every resident and staff member at every nursing home in South Carolina, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Wednesday.

     “This extensive testing plan is part of DHEC’s ongoing efforts to increase COVID-19 testing in South Carolina, especially for those at higher risk for developing severe complications from the virus, like nursing home residents and the staff members who care for them,” a DHEC news release said.

     “Many of us have family, friends and loved ones in these types of care facilities,” said DHEC Director Rick Toomey. “Across the country, COVID-19 has drastically impacted the residents and workers at nursing homes, and we want South Carolinians to know that DHEC is doing everything we can to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially for the vulnerable populations who reside at these care facilities.”

     Beginning next week, DHEC — with testing support from LabCorp and extensive coordination and cooperation from the two primary associations that represent nursing homes, South Carolina Healthcare Association and Leading Age South Carolina — will begin a phased testing approach to include approximately 40,000 residents and staff members at the 194 nursing homes in the state.

     The first phase will begin May 11 with approximately 15,000 residents and staff at 74 facilities. While these facilities were identified based on risk, the majority of them volunteered to be tested in phase one.

     Statewide testing of the 194 facilities is expected to be complete by the end of May.

     COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities are an indicator of ongoing transmission of virus within a community and require an intense focus on infection prevention practices, the state agency said. DHEC has worked, and continues to work, closely with these health care facilities to provide guidance and help implement recommendations for protecting residents as well as the dedicated workers who care for them. The facilities have been notified of this testing plan, and DHEC staff are working with facilities to answer any questions or concerns ahead of the testing roll out.

     “Asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 from staff to residents and between residents is a concern in nursing homes,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Director of Public Health. “Universal testing in these facilities will allow us to better identify residents with asymptomatic infection in order to cohort infected patients and further reduce the spread of COVID-19 from patients with no signs of illness.”

     In addition to providing universal testing, several measures have been implemented statewide to protect residents and staff at nursing homes. DHEC’s disease investigation staff work closely with facilities to prevent additional cases by investigating when a COVID-19 case is reported involving a staff member or resident. This includes that all nursing homes are required to report COVID-19 infections to DHEC. A typical response includes:

     Frontline epidemiologists contact the facility to collect preliminary information about residents and staff.

     Frontline staff connect the facilities with DHEC Infection Preventionists who provide facility-specific consultations.

     Guidance is provided about how to assess possible exposures, restriction of activities, isolation and quarantine measures, appropriate use of personal protective equipment and disease monitoring in staff and residents to rapidly detect additional cases.

     Gov. Henry McMaster issued an Executive Order on March 13 that stopped public visitation to nursing homes in order to help protect the vulnerable population of residents, staff and visitors. This order is still in effect.

     DHEC continues to release new and updated information as it becomes available. For the latest COVID-19 information and updates, visit here.

Two new Horry COVID cases in Loris Zip Code

     Two more people in Horry County have been confirmed with COVID-19, both in the Loris Zip Code, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday.

     With the latest report Horry County has recorded 238 people testing positive for the disease since the pandemic began and 18 deaths.

     Statewide there have been 6,936 positive tests returned for COVID-19 in South Carolina, up by 97 from Tuesday; with 305 related deaths, that number up by 9 from Tuesday.


     Look for continuing coverage on local impacts from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak here and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.