McMaster: ‘All hands on deck’ as S.C. investigates 2 possible coronavirus cases

MUSC introduces free virtual health care platform for those with flu-like symptoms
Updated: Mar. 7, 2020 at 2:09 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Caorlina Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters Saturday morning that the state has been planning for the possibility of coronavirus cases.

“There’s no reason for alarm,” McMaster said. “We ask people to go back to their daily lives with the understanding that there is a new virus, but there are ways to protect yourself.”

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Dr. Rick Toomey said his agency made the decision Friday to quickly alert the public after receiving two presumptive-positive tests for COVID-19, the novel strain of the coronavirus.

“Based on what we see and know so far, the risk for the public remains low,” Toomey said. “Public Health events like this one are not new to South Carolina. As a state, we have responded to the Zika. The N1H1, SARS and others, including the current flu season. Together we have trained prepared and put systems into place to ensure that we are prepared to respond to this, and other events.”

Toomey said DHEC has created a special section of their website to help answer questions at

Late Friday, DHEC confirmed presumptive-positive tests for two women, one in Charleston and the other in Kershaw County.

The Charleston County patient is in her 30s and is team member of MUSC in Charleston. She recently returned from a trip to France and Italy. State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said she is not hospitalized and does not require medical treatment.

That patient’s symptoms began on Feb. 28 and she sought treatment on Monday, Bell said. She reported to the health department on Thursday and the result was reported on Friday.

The second patient is a woman in her 80s in Kershaw County who is hospitalized and in isolation. Bell said she had a more “prolonged course of illness,” with her onset of symptoms beginning on Feb. 27.

“She was admitted to a hospital for evaluation of an unknown illness,” Bell said. When various diagnostic tests ruled out other possibilities, doctors began considering the possibility of COVID-19, Bell said.

But Bell said it is not yet clear how she was exposed to the virus.

“We don’t have a history that she has traveled outside of the United States and outside of South Carolina,” she said. “At this time we’re still investigating the potential source of her infection. Community spread is one possibility as her source, if she has no history of travel, and we’re continuing to investigate to see if she had contact with someone who did potentially travel elsewhere and then that would make this case a connection to a travel-associated case, and we’re still working to investigate all of those details.”

The Kershaw County patient was transferred Friday to a different medical facility in the Midlands where she can receive an appropriate level of care.

“I also want to reaffirm to the public that our planning and preparations have created a system that is working,” Bell said. “The medical professionals who presided over each patient’s care followed CDC’s and DHEC guidance and took the appropriate steps to recommend their respective patients for testing for COVID-19. DHEC then consulted with those medical professionals, agreed that the patients met the recommendations for testing and proceeded with the testing at the state public health lab.”

Bell encouraged the public to remain calm and continue to practice daily precautions to prevent the spread of germs:

  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes
  • Staying home when you feel sick
  • Appropriately disposing of tissues and other items that have potentially been contaminated.

“While we understand that there is a lot of interest, we are still learning about the virus and investigating this situation,” she said. "As we learn more, and when cases are confirmed, we will continue to update you as quickly and as timely as possible.

She also said there is no indication so far that businesses, schools or others should alter schedules or do anything different.

“There is no evidence of ongoing transmission in South Carolina at this time,” Bell said. “There is no reason to alter your daily routine, other than to continue to be vigilant about keeping germs from spreading by covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with warm soap and water and staying home when sick.”

She also said that in the two healthcare facilities the Kershaw County patient has been in, isolation precautions that have been taken will have been sufficient to prevent exposure to others. Healthcare workers, she said, are following recommendations and using personal protective equipment and taking isolation measures taken in all hospitals for respiratory illnesses.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said Friday two people in the state did test positive at DHEC’s Public Health Laboratory, but the cases must be confirmed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials will provide an update on the test results once the results become available, which could be between 24 to 48 hours.

The CDC released the test kits to state public health labs weeks ago and their policy requires that when one of the labs begins performing a new test, the CDC must validate those results, either confirming the presumptive positive test result or determining it to be a “false positive."

Bell said a false positive result is a possibility, but said they believe the tests are reliable.

“The test kits available is specific for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and not other conditions, and we believe it’s a highly reliable test,” she said.

State health officials say they have test kits available to test between 80 and 100 patients per day.

Medical University of South Carolina President Dr. David Cole announced a new free virtual care option for people who are experiencing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms.

“Simply sign on to and use the code ‘COVID19,’” he said. "Experienced providers will treat symptoms, provide information and give direction.

The director of MUSC’s Virtual Care platform, Dr. Ed O’Brien, said South Carolina is “a true leader in telemedicine in the nation” and one of only two nationally-certified telehealth centers of excellence in the United States.

“With our platform, you can receive care from a group of trusted MUSC, doctors, nurse practitioners and P.A.s, from your home, anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said.

People who have flu-like symptoms or just have questions, you can log on.

“At that point you’ll answer a series of questions and MUSC provider can treat your symptoms and give you advice on what to do from there,” he said. “Or they may want to speak to you in person. If your symptoms warrant that, the ways they may contact you are by phone, video or chat. We’re making this free to anyone in South Carolina.”

He said people should use the promo code “COVID19” at the payment screen.

“This is a great tool to get care without being exposed, or exposing others to whatever illness, you may have,” O’Brien said. “Just remember: the flu is still very rampant in South Carolina, and we can treat that with telemedicine as well. We believe this platform makes a tremendous impact on the people of our state.”

McMaster praised his “Team South Carolina” for following an established plan he said leaders had been working on to prepare for cases of the virus in the state.

He said it was too early to consider declaring any kind of state emergency because of COVID-19, stressing that everything that has happened with regard to the cases so far has followed what the state’s health experts planned for.

“The steps, the provisions, the precautions that we’ve been talking about from the beginning and recommending are the same things you’re hearing from the CDC and others,” he said.

McMaster said his team have been in constant contact with federal authorities including Vice President Mike Pence, who assured him that “whatever is necessary would be done.”

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