Now is not the time to lose focus on fighting COVID-19.
South Carolina is in the midst of a record-breaking streak of new cases, and Horry County has been designated a hot spot for the illness.
“If we’re going to stop the spread in our community and across the state, people need to be careful and take every precaution possible to protect themselves and others,” says Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health, our region’s leader in COVID-19 testing and response. “It’s important to remember we are still learning the best ways to treat this virus, and there’s still a long way to go before any type of vaccine will be ready.”
Here are seven steps you can take to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community:
Proudly wear a mask
COVID-19 is thought to spread primarily through droplets emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. That’s why wearing a face mask or face covering is important to keep everyone around you safe.
A study led by a professor at Texas A&M University found that wearing a mask or face covering significantly decreased the number of COVID-19 infections. In New York City, for example, the study found that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by 66,000 in just over a month. Researchers concluded that wearing a face mask in public was the most effective way to prevent transmission.
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In some places, including all 60-plus Tidelands Health care locations, wearing a face covering or mask is required to help limit the spread of COVID-19. At Tidelands Health, it’s part of the not-for-profit organization’s “Safe in Our Care” commitment, a series of extra precautions put in place to protect patients and reassure them it’s safe to get the medical care they need.
When you aren’t wearing a face covering, be sure to cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow. Throw away the tissue and wash your hands immediately afterward.
Washing your hands thoroughly and often is another excellent way to limit your risk of infection from COVID-19. Experts recommend washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, which is the same amount of times it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Wash your hands after you’ve been in a public place, before you eat, after removing a face covering and after you’ve blown your nose, coughed or sneezed. When water and soap aren’t available, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is the next best thing.
Try not to touch your face
The virus can spread when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Even though wearing gloves while you’re out and about might seem to protect you, you can still infect yourself if you touch a contaminated surface then rub your eyes or itch your nose. That’s why the CDC only recommends the general public wear gloves when cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.
Otherwise, the best advice is to keep your hands away from your face as much as possible and wash your hands regularly.
Maintain a healthy distance
Social distancing is an essential way to limit transmission of the virus.
The CDC recommends people maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other. Whether you’re worshiping in church or waiting in line to pick up a take-out meal, maintaining that six-foot distance is key because virus transmission can happen even if it doesn’t seem like a person is sick. The CDC estimates that 40 percent of coronavirus transmissions occur before people exhibit symptoms.
Make sure to avoid large gatherings.
Be on guard for symptoms
Knowing the signs of COVID-19 is important. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell. If you think you are sick with COVID-19, stay home except to get medical care.
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If you are experiencing symptoms, use the no-cost MUSC Health virtual screening tool at muschealth.org, or call your primary care provider for instructions on what to do next. If you do not have a primary care provider, call 1-866-TIDELANDS, and the team at Tidelands Health will help you find one.
In case of emergency, always call 911.
Since it’s possible to spread the illness without knowing you’re sick, it’s a good idea to be tested. As the region’s leader in COVID-19 testing, Tidelands Health, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, is offering free COVID-19 testing clinics across the region in June.
Individuals under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to give consent for testing. Participants simply drive up to be tested and remain in their vehicles throughout the process. The goal is to collect 8,000 tests — representing 2 percent of the region’s total population — by the end of June.
A schedule of upcoming testing clinics is available by clicking here.
“Even if you don’t feel sick, it’s a good idea to be tested,” says Dr. Harmon. “Not only does it provide important information about your health, but it’s also important to public health officials and health care organizations battling the virus.”
Keep high-touch surfaces clean
Although the COVID-19 coronavirus is thought to spread primarily from person to person, it may spread in other ways, such as by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it before touching your own mouth, nose or eyes.
As such, the CDC recommends that you clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. Think tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, door handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
“We all need to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Harmon says. “Taking proper precautions isn’t always easy, but it’s extremely important.”
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Vice President of Medical Affairs and Family Medicine Physician
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.Learn More
Medical University of South Carolina
U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital
American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.