At least 1,260 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in South Carolina, and the largest health systems in the state of Palmetto say that number is no accident, as coronavirus infections and deaths continue to increase.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in South Carolina have almost tripled since a month ago, inviting some skepticism online that these numbers are inflated by tests of asymptomatic people who were admitted to hospitals for other reasons.
The state agency that compiles these numbers, the Department of Health and Environment Control, leaves that possibility open. Your daily hospitalization count includes all patients in the hospital who test positive for the disease, regardless of the reason they were originally admitted.
This is a comforting thought for virus skeptics who want to believe that most COVID-19 patients in SC hospitals are not seriously ill. But it is not reality, according to most major health systems in South Carolina.
Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in Greenville, Prisma Health in Greenville and Columbia, Roper St. Francis Hospital in Charleston and Trident Health in Lowcountry told the Post and Courier that they usually only test patients who have symptoms or have another clinical reason to be tested.
They say their COVID-19 numbers do not include people who show up at the hospital for hip replacements, broken arms or other unrelated illnesses.
“The tests in hospitals are based on medical orders or clinical reasons,” said Prisma Health spokeswoman Tammie Epps. “We are not just testing anyone.”
Several hospitals require that patients seeking elective procedures be tested before being admitted. If the test is positive for the virus, they stay at home and quarantine, never appearing in the hospital’s case count.
An important example is University of South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin, who tested positive for COVID-19 in preparation for knee replacement surgery in May. He was not hospitalized because of the virus.
Only one hospital reached by the Post and Courier is examining all of its patients for the disease.
Medical University of South Carolina began doing so on June 29 as an additional security measure “to protect healthcare professionals and other patients at our facilities,” said spokesman Heather Woolwine.
Admissions to MUSC-Charleston have soared in recent weeks, from 21 in mid-June to 75 last week. But this trend is happening in hospitals across the state and cannot be attributed to asymptomatic patients, Woolwine said. Of the hospital’s 75 patients with COVID-19, 25 were in intensive care and 14 on ventilators.
Hospitals offer another explanation for the increase in the number of hospitalizations: more people are getting sick. More than 46,000 SC residents tested positive for the virus, and at least 819 of them died.
Andy Lyons, a spokesman for Roper St. Francis, said he was frustrated to see social media posts from people rejecting the virus threat or questioning the statistics. This is a familiar feeling among health professionals across the state who are caring for people seriously ill with respiratory diseases.
Psychologists said the confirmation bias is at work behind the public rejection of the virus threat. This psychological principle holds that people tend to look for facts and statistics that reinforce their existing opinions and make them feel safe. This helps to explain why hospital staff and the general public may have such different perspectives on the pandemic.
“We can’t help emphasizing how serious this is,” said Lyons.
Talk to Avery Wilks at 803-374-3115. Follow him on Twitter at @AveryGWilks.