Local hospitals preparing to face pandemic

By Ron Barnett

Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Pickens County’s two hospitals have issued restrictions on visitation as they try to hold down the possible spread of the coronavirus that had infected nearly 300 South Carolinians by early this week.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control listed one person in Pickens County as having contracted the virus by Tuesday morning, but the growth in numbers across the state had jumped by about 100, with 15 cases in Anderson County, 31 in Greenville and with Oconee registering its first two cases. There had been five deaths reported across the state from the virus as of Tuesday morning.

As of March 20, no visitors are allowed at any Prisma Health hospitals, emergency departments or outpatient facilities, including Baptist Easley Hospital.

The AnMed Health system, which includes Cannon Memorial Hospital in Pickens, is limiting visitation to only end-of-life situations, labor and delivery, and pediatric patients, according to spokeswoman Lizz Walker. Only one visitor at a time will be allowed. Other family members will not be allowed in the waiting areas and must remain outside the facilities.

No visitors under the age of 16 will be allowed.

AnMed Health is also closing many entrances to hospitals and facilities. Visitors must be prepared to have their temperature taken and answer questions about their health, travel and exposure to others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Both hospital systems are postponing routine testing and elective surgeries and procedures.

Prisma is setting up its North Greenville Hospital in Travelers Rest as a dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients and started moving patients from its Long Term Acute Care area there to Baptist Easley. Spokeswoman Sandy Dees said, however, that COVID-19 patients who live in Pickens County would still be able to get treatment at Baptist Easley, if space is available.

Freeing up space at North Greenville is being done as a precaution in case of a larger influx of COVID-19 patients than the community hospitals can handle, she said.

“We hope it’s not needed, but we want it to be available if we see that it’s necessary,” Dr. C. Wendell James III, chief clinical officer for Prisma Health–Upstate, said in a statement. “We already had extensive disaster preparedness plans in place, and we have continued to aggressively strengthen them since January, when the outbreak first began globally.”

How many COVID-19 patients will have to be hospitalized in South Carolina remains unknown, as the number of people infected changes rapidly day by day and the state remains behind the curve in the development of the disease.

According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, Pickens County has a total of 164 hospital beds, which would amount to about one bed for every 800 residents, based on 2018 U.S. Census estimates of the county’s population. Pickens County had an estimated 20,660 people in the higher-risk age group of 65 or older in 2018, according to the estimate, and a total population of 124,937.

Hospital officials weren’t able to readily provide numbers for the current occupancy level of the county’s two hospitals, or the number of ventilators. Statewide, there are 1,160 ventilators, including portable and neonatal machines, according to information released during a press conference with Gov. Henry McMaster and state officials on Monday. McMaster also said canceling elective surgeries had opened up an additional 1,819 hospital beds statewide.

Walker said AnMed has “a plan in place for the care of all patients in our system, which includes Cannon, requiring ventilation.”

“Donations from businesses are helping us meet our needs, but we are continuing to look for supply options,” she said.

She said AnMed has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment to treat the current inpatients but said the system doesn’t have adequate supplies, particularly surgical masks, “if we have a significant surge in the number of admitted patients over the coming weeks.”

“There has been a very difficult shortage of the media needed to transport swabs for testing to some labs, and this has curtailed the number of patients we have been able to test,” Walker added. “Currently, we are only testing symptomatic patients who have risk factors for high impact from COVID-19, and only when they have an order from a physician.”

Both AnMed and Prisma are offering drive-thru testing for patients with a doctor’s order for the test. They also both have online systems set up for virtual visits with health professionals for COVID-19 screening. Go to or for an online visit. Use the promo code COVID19 for a free virtual visit on Prisma’s system.