Officials prioritize protecting seniors as county reopens

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — As more of the county reopens, Pickens County officials say it is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to protect the most vulnerable from the COVID-19 virus.

“How are we going to ensure the safety of the elderly population?” and “Is it smart to reopen even as COVID numbers in South Carolina continue to increase?” were questions fielded by county officials during a virtual briefing on Phase II of the Kickstart Pickens County plan held Thursday afternoon.

County Emergency Management director Denise Kwiatek said Gov. Henry McMaster telling the Department of Health and Environmental Control to test every single nursing home patient in the state “was huge.”

“It is our responsibility to protect our elderly and our most vulnerable,” she said. “If we do not, then we haven’t done what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to keep everyone safe.”

McMaster is telling officials that by the end of May, all nursing home patients and staff will have been tested for COVID-19, Kwiatek said.

“So, please, it is your responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and elderly population,” she said.

As Phase II kicks off, residents should continue practicing good hygiene to prevent the virus’ spread, Kwiatek said.

“Continue to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” she said. “Cover your cough or when you sneeze — go into your elbow.”

Residents should also practice social distancing, she said.

“No matter where you are, practice that social distancing, that six feet, whether you’re in a county building or at the grocery store,” Kwiatek said. “Try to maintain that. Clean and disinfect everything that you touch on a regular basis.”

Businesses should educate employees on social distancing and “disinfecting their work areas all day long,” she said.

“So we can keep the COVID-19 at a bare minimum and keep everything disinfected,” Kwiatek said.

Employers are encouraged to prescreen their employees when they come to work, she said.

“Take their temperature, ask them if they’re symptomatic of anything,” Kwiatek said. “We just want everyone to be safe and follow the same rules. Please be vigilant. I know that stores are opening and restaurants are reopening, but we encourage everyone to continue washing your hands and that social distancing so that we do not have a reoccurrence.”

Acting county administrator Ken Roper said a lot of the pressure to reopen and get out in the public “is because of a political conversation that’s gone on.”

“The concept now that many people are embracing is that they want more of their kind of daily life back,” he said. “They want more of their daily freedoms back. They want more of their daily rights back.”

But our rights “also carry responsibilities,” Roper said.

“Particularly when it comes to our most vulnerable populations,” he said.

In addition to the elderly, other groups of people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, Roper said.

“So that’s why you when you’re out exercising your freedoms, your lifestyle that you’re accustomed to as Americans, you need to be aware of your responsibilities,” he said. “If you’re going to go to that restaurant, don’t go to that crowded restaurant. If you’re going to go to that store, don’t get up close to people — stay distant.

“If you’re going out into that public area, wear a mask,” Roper continued. “You’re doing that not for you — you’re doing that for the most vulnerable folks in our society. You’re doing this because of your sense of shared responsibility we have for one another, to protect our most vulnerable.”

Phase II of the county’s Kickoff Pickens County plan began Monday.