MUSC Health’s ‘new normal’ operations updated over Delta variant concern

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 2:20 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2021 at 9:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Lowcountry healthcare facilities are now operating under a new set of “normal” conditions as safeguards against COVID-19 continue.

For the Medical University of South Carolina, it’s new guidelines included that masks were “strongly recommended but no longer required” for fully vaccinated care team members, patients and visitors and for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals with a history of prior COVID-19 infection.

However, as of July 12, MUSC Health officials said their policy had returned to “required masking for all care team members when in clinical areas” because of concerns about the Delta variant and increasing case numbers in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, MUSC Health officials confirmed Wednesday that five employees have been fired from the hospital system for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with a new policy established in April.

“Five individuals within MUSC Health were separated from the organization due to noncompliance. Employees were provided notification in April that this policy was going into place, with leaders and new hires going first, followed by everyone else in the organization ultimately needing to be vaccinated by June 30,” MUSC Public Affairs Director Health Woolwine said.

Officials said the terminations were a last resort for noncompliance.

In the meantime, visitation for admitted patients who are COVID-19 negative or recovered is still limited to no more than two at a bedside at any given time. However, MUSC Health has lifted restrictions on the list of people who can visit a patient.

“Visitors may now swap out an unlimited number of people as long as no more than two are present at the bedside,” MUSC recommendations stated.

Guidelines also recommend that all MUSC Health patients and visitors continue to make a good-faith effort to practice social distancing in public areas.

“Although these changes are in response to CDC guidance, high immunity within our care teams and low infection rates in our community, we continue to closely monitor the Delta variant and will adjust if the situation becomes critical,” MUSC recommendations stated.

Meanwhile, Roper St. Francis Healthcare officials said it’s just not practical or responsible for them to allow individuals to go unmasked inside their facilities whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not.

“We’re not checking for vaccine cards and we’re not checking for COVID status, whether or not you’ve had COVID. In absence of that, if those are the folks who can walk around without masks, how do I know?” Roper St. Francis Healthcare’s Dr. Robert Oliverio. “We are going to do what we have to to keep people safe.”

Roper St. Francis and Trident Health have made the COVID-19 shot voluntary.

“We strongly, strongly recommend it,” Oliverio explained. However, it is not a condition of employment for Roper St. Francis Healthcare team members.

These challenges have created a new normal for healthcare facilities across the Lowcountry and have delayed many from easing their mask mandates.

“My concern is you have a place designed to bring in COVID patients, that’s what we do. If you’re sick, you come see us. This is where COVID would be if it’s going to be anywhere, and I don’t want my teammates patients or visitors coming in contact with that. That’s the reality, and that’s what we are dealing with,” Oliverio said.

Trident Health officials said their patient, staff, and physician COVID protection plan continues to be effective.

“Masks are required except when eating or drinking. Our six feet social distancing policy remains. We do allow two visitors in the hospital at one time per patient. The COVID vaccine is available to all new employees and employees and their families who want to be vaccinated. Currently, 70% of our staff have been vaccinated,” Trident Health officials said in a statement.

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