Society Hill site for DHEC’s 1st COVID-19 mass tests
By Samantha Lyles
When word spread that CareSouth Carolina and S.C. DHEC would offer free drive-through testing for COVID-19, many Darlington County citizens made plans to spend their Tuesday morning at St. David’s Academy in Society Hill, getting a definitive answer to this year’s most pressing question: Do I have the novel coronavirus?
With 500 tests available, medical workers in gowns, gloves and masks took registration information and charted possible symptoms, used oropharyngeal swabs to collect samples from the mouth and throat, and secured those specimen for testing by DHEC. Results will be sent out by CareSouth in 48 to 72 hours.
“This is a pilot program, the first in the state,” said Suzette McClellan, Community Systems Director for DHEC’s Pee Dee Region. “We hope to roll these throughout the state as part of the governor’s AccelerateSC plan.”
There was no charge for the test, and tests were administered on a first-come, first-served basis.
McClellan said DHEC hoped to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting South Carolina by testing a large group of people rather than cobbling together small data sets drawn from various sources.
“We’ve done a lot of testing through DHEC, and private labs have done testing, but this is the first time we’ve done mass testing like they’ve done in other states,” McClellan said. “We want to determine how many people have been infected in South Carolina, and that will determine how quickly our state opens back up.”
Balancing public health concerns with the need to get people back to work is proving to be a difficult problem. State Senator Gerald Malloy (District 29) said the more information we have about rates of infection, susceptibility, and potential immunity due to antibodies, the faster we can get the state’s economy restarted.
“One of the components necessary for South Carolina to get back to work is more testing,” said Sen. Malloy, who stopped by to check the public’s response and get himself tested. “There are a lot of people walking around who may be asymptomatic. In order for us to go back to work, we need to know who has it and who doesn’t … and you can see today that there is a thirst and a hunger for testing. People want to know.”
With traffic stretched almost a mile down St. David’s Street, the interest in testing was obviously high, but access to testing sites remains a challenge for many citizens.
Malloy said he hopes to use his voice as a member of Gov. Henry McMaster’s “AccelerateSC” committee to bring attention to the plight of rural communities and mobilize testing labs to service a wider swath of the population.
“What CareSouth and DHEC are doing here today is wonderful,” said Malloy, “But a lot of folks living in rural communities have limited access to medical care. Plus, this virus is disproportionately affecting African Americans. We’ve seen that 53 percent of deaths in the last several days have been African Americans, even though they represent only 27 percent of the population.” Malloy cited diabetes, high blood pressure, and generational poverty as possible contributing factors.
Prior to this mobile testing event, CareSouth Carolina had conducted 150 COVID-19 tests at similar drive-thru sites around the Pee Dee. CareSouth Carolina released a statement saying that it had tested a total of 584 patients for COVID-19. 75 of those tested positive, and two patients deaths have been confirmed.
“Our goal is to provide and help support widespread testing,” said Ann Lewis, CEO of CareSouth Carolina. “There are many unknown aspects of this novel coronavirus, but we do know that by identifying those individuals who test positive but may have no symptoms, we can prevent their unknowing spread of the virus.”
The free COVID-19 testing event in Society Hill was scheduled to run from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Other partners included Darlington County Administration, Emergency Services, and Sheriff’s Department, as well as Mayor of Society Hill Tommy Bradshaw; the South Carolina Department of Transportation; the South Carolina National Guard; the South Carolina State Highway Patrol; Regional Hospital Coalition; and Bethesda Baptist Church. For information about future testing events, check with www.scdhec.gov.