MUSC preparing for late-April "surge" of COVID-19 cases, planning "MASH-style" facility and extra ICU capacity 

Timing of coronavirus peak in SC unknown

click to enlarge MUSC is preparing for a surge of coronavirus patients in late April

Sam Spence

MUSC is preparing for a surge of coronavirus patients in late April

Officials at the Medical University of South Carolina are taking steps now to accommodate a late-April surge of COVID-19 patients that may require extra capacity.

With more coronavirus patients expected at Charleston-area hospitals, plans are being developed to prepare bed space at MUSC for an additional 400 COVID-19 cases including a temporary military-style facility and using empty space within the medical center.

According to an update sent Monday, "MUSC Health has begun collaborating with the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard to plan a MASH-style care facility on campus, should it be needed, adding approximately 270 more beds for COVID-19 patients who do not require critical care."

MUSC officials say the hospital will also utilize space recently vacated with the opening of the new Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital.

"MUSC Health has plans to use recently vacated, critical care space in the old Children’s Hospital, now known as University Hospital Extension, as well as possible ICU space in Ashley River Tower for approximately 130 extra beds."

MUSC is "projecting end of April for the surge" of COVID-19 patients, says Heather Woolwine, MUSC's director of public affairs. Those projections are consistent with increases forecasted by state health officials last week. Detailed projections will be shared with MUSC leaders and the public later this week.

Initial plans to increase capacity are the "first parts of a multi-tiered, phased plan to prepare for the surge," Woolwine says. Subsequent phases and planning are in process, she says. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that affects the lungs and can make it difficult for patients to breathe, sometimes requiring the help of a ventilator. People with underlying medical conditions or with weak immune systems are especially at risk for infection. There is no cure or vaccine.

On March 25, DHEC was projecting that the state will start to see more than 1,000 new cases per week beginning in early April. Increasing to 2,134 projected new cases for the week ending May 2, there could be more than 8,000 total cases in the state by that time, according to DHEC. However, it is unknown when the disease will peak in South Carolina.

"At this time, we can't anticipate the peak," a state emergency response team spokesperson tells the City Paper. "Our epidemiologists, doctors and statisticians are following closely all state and national data every day, and we'll provide updated projections again soon."
As of Monday, MUSC completed 2,944 tests for COVID-19. In MUSC's Charleston-area facilities, 34 health care workers have also tested positive for the disease.

A spokesman at Roper St. Francis says as more test results come back, they also anticipate the number of the number of positive cases at their facilities to increase.

Statewide, 22 people have died and 1,018 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to updates Tuesday by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In preparation for a surge, MUSC is encouraging donations of protective equipment at its North Charleston warehouse (4295 Arco Lane). A full list of requested items is available at muschealth.org.

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