COVID-19 testing in S.C. increases by 1,000+ but true number of tests unknown

Updated: Mar. 20, 2020 at 8:06 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 1,257 more COVID-19 tests were conducted this week than the week before.

As the number of tests increase across the state, so has the number of positive cases.

On Friday, DHEC reported 125 cases throughout the state, an 800% increase from March 13.

The number of actual COVID-19 tests conducted in South Carolina is unknown.

Recently private companies, Labcorp, LabQuest and BioReference, started testing in South Carolina. The labs only report positive cases to DHEC, so the total number of tests conducted is not reported.

WMBF Investigates reached out to the labs and local hospitals to try to get a more accurate number but no one was able to provide one.

Conway Medical Center said it was using DHEC and LabQuest while Grand Strand said it is using just DHEC.

Tidelands is also using both DHEC and private labs, which Dr. Gerald Harmon said this hasn’t increased turnaround time but it has increased the capacity of tests.

“We have seen an increase in the ability to test clearly, so that is a great benefit so that’s why we’re hopefully going to be able to predict with a little bit more accuracy the frequency, the transmission-ability and the mortality of the disease,” Harmon said.

He explained previously, Tidelands was relying solely on DHEC to deliver and transport tests.

The FDA only began allowing private labs to conduct testing on February 29. Previously, only the CDC was authorized to develop and distribute tests which led to extreme rationing of test kits.

Despite the increase in testing, many individuals have expressed frustration over not being allowed to be tested.

Horry County resident Amy Sargent said she was having some COVID-19 symptoms earlier this week.

“Sore throat, fever, body aches, cough, all that,” Sargent explained.

She used MUSC’s online screening and was told she didn’t qualify for a test.

“They basically got back to me and said I don’t qualify to be tested because they are only doing healthcare workers or if you’ve traveled or if you’ve been around somebody confirmed with it,” she said.

She said she works in the fast-food industry and is confused about how she would even know if she was exposed to someone with the virus.

“I don’t really know the people who come through and where they’ve been,” Sargent said. "I’m touching all this money all day long, so I really don’t know who I’ve been around.”

But then when she tried to go to her doctor to get medicine in case it was the flu, she said they wouldn’t see her because she had coronavirus symptoms.

“It’s really annoying honestly because whether I have it or I don’t, I know I would need to stay home, but I worry about people in my house getting it, you know, they could really die from it, so it’s aggravating,” Sargent said. “It’s aggravating because I can’t even go to a regular doctor to get antibiotics if I need it because they will not test me. Nobody wants to see me.”

WMBF Investigates spoke to multiple other people who shared Sargent’s frustrations.

One woman said she had similar coronavirus symptoms but was diagnosed with a viral infection and told to stay home for two weeks. She told WMBF that the medical staff refused to test her because she hadn’t been out of the country.

Another woman said her daughter had a high fever and cough for days. An MUSC screening said her daughter qualified for coronavirus testing but said it’s been three days and she hasn’t heard back. She told WMBF it seems impossible to be tested and there doesn’t seem to be enough tests.

State health experts admitted test supplies are limited across the state during a press conference on Thursday.

“Supplies to test samples and run tests are limited. We do not recommend that everyone who is ill get a test to see if they have COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Linda Bell with SCDHEC.

Bell said the state is not recommending testing anyone without symptoms.

SCDHEC Director Rick Toomey added, “It’s a challenge. We can do as many tests in a day as we are getting. We’re not limited by our volume, we’re limited by the supplies and we’re working with suppliers and the CDC to get both the swabs, the kits and the reagents for out machines that run the test.”

Harmon said the healthcare system is not trying to ration tests but it is trying to be rational with its resources.

“Just as I talked about overwhelming the healthcare system and resources we can overwhelm the number of testing kits. There is still not an infinite number of testing kits. Everybody asks, ‘Is there enough?’ Well I’m not sure we yet have 330 million and you may have a cold or symptom and you rush to get tested and a month later, two weeks later you have the real disease then you’ve used your test kit allocation, so you need to think this through and that’s what we need to think of too,” Harmon explained.

Still many, like Sargent, can’t help but question what the impact will be of rationing supplies.

“I feel like we have so many people who have it and don’t know it because we can’t get tested,” Sargent said.

Harmon said he promises healthcare professionals are taking this seriously and learning every day.

“Remember 90 days ago? We never heard of this thing,” Harmon said. “So in the 90 days since it’s happen that’s an incredible expansion of knowledge and availability of data we’re trying to gather.”

Earlier this week DHEC said it still had enough supplies to test 2,000 samples.

“We have routine capacity to test 80-100 specimens per day with the ability to double or triple that number as needed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Both Labcorp and LabQuest announced they would be ramping up their capacity to process tens of thousands of tests a day.

DHEC said the CDC and FDA may be in the process of approving more labs to perform testing in South Carolina.

MUSC also said earlier this week it would be working to develop in-house testing capabilities.

If you think you have COVID-19:

  • Conway Medical Center is offering a phone line where patients can speak with a medical professional for a screening for COVID-19. Call (843) 428-8767 Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. to speak with a Registered Nurse.
  • Patients can use MUSC Health’s Virtual Care to speak to an online virtual care provider for no cost. After that telephone screening, you may be allowed to schedule an appointment to be tested for other infection diseases like strep, flu and potentially COVID-19.
  • Patients with COVID-19 symptoms are asked to not show up to ask for testing at a provider office or Emergency Department, unless it is a true medical emergency.
  • For more information visit: or

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