Upstate medical experts and city officials urged the Greenville community to keep observing safeguards against COVID-19, especially as New Year’s Eve approaches.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 29 experts painted a grim picture of the rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the area and the risk of staffing shortages in the hospital systems.
“South Carolina deals with hurricanes every single year. And if somebody told anyone in the state, there was a category five hurricane that was going to make landfall, I guarantee you, everybody would be taking precautions, everybody would be doing anything and everything they needed to do to safeguard themselves and their family,” said Prisma CEO Mark O’Halla. “That’s what we’re dealing with right now.”
O’Halla said due to the increase in cases, doctors across the Upstate are out sick with COVID, meaning that there are fewer clinicians to help with the surge.
Dr. Wendell James, chief clinical officer at Prisma Health, said people need to be afraid of not taking the necessary precautions.
“We’re at no place to have another rise [in cases],” James said.
Speakers at the press conference said the community is still dealing with the cases that stem from the Thanksgiving holiday. With Christmas just behind us, it’ll soon be apparent how much the holidays have helped spread the deadly virus. And now, New Year’s Eve may bring even more cases.
Greenville Mayor Knox White said the city would enforce an executive order capping the size of gatherings to 250 people and no alcohol is to be served after 11 p.m.
“We hope and expect people to use good sense and not to participate in large, crowded events, New Year’s Eve parties and like,” White said. Attending such events would be “horribly unfair and irresponsible to the men and women in the healthcare community.”
White and Greenville Police Department chief J.H. Thompson said police have already reached out to some event organizers. One publicized event, Reedy River Grand Ball, canceled their New Year’s Eve bash after a social media outcry. On New Year’s Eve, police will follow up to ensure venues are obeying the executive orders.
In a call with representatives from five Upstate hospitals, the facilities acknowledged they are at capacity, said Dr. Marcus Blackstone, chief clinical officer, Bon Secours St. Francis.
Speaking directly to the community, Blackstone said, “This is not going to get better for a while, so you just have to understand that we’re doing everything we can do, but you’re really taking the capability out of our hands, because you’ve overwhelmed our hospital systems at this point.”
While vaccines are being administered, Blackstone cautioned that it’s months away before the community may be adequately protected.
Doctors urged individuals to stay at home on New Year’s Eve.
“I find it appalling that there were people in this community that are willing to put on large functions in the face of this pandemic,” said James. “This is no joke. This is serious. It is irresponsible to hold such an event. Period.”
He added: “Put your mask on, wash your hands, socially distance, stay home New Year’s Eve. It’s not gonna kill anybody. Not doing it might.”
For more information about COVID-19, visit https://scdhec.gov/covid19.