DHEC to provide confirmed COVID-19 case zip codes, priority testing for first responders

DHEC to provide location of those testing positive for COVID-19 by zip code, according to letter

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has requested the state Department of Health and Environmental Control provide the location of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in S.C. by zip code for the prior 14 days.

That’s according to a letter from DHEC Director Richard Toomey to the S.C. Association of Counties after the organization sent a letter to McMaster, asking him to provide information on the location of coronavirus patients.

According to the SCAC letter, the information is important for first responders who are the “boots on the ground” during the COVID-19 fight.

It’s information, Midway Fire Chief Doug Eggiman said, is critical to help determine how emergency personnel respond to calls.

Currently, his team follows CDC guidelines on how first responders should care for people who have known or suspected COVID-19.

DHEC providing the zip codes to people who test positive will now allow them to better adjust how they respond, such as if they need to be more cautious in high-risk areas.

“That doesn’t allow us to let our guard down per se, but gives us advanced knowledge,” Eggiman said.

Another SCAC request to McMaster was that first responders be given priority for testing of the COVID-19 virus. The letter from Toomey said DHEC has finalized arrangements for first responders to receive priority testing status.

Eggiman said currently there are 19 staff members each shift. If a few of them are exposed to the virus while responding to a call, priority testing will determine faster if they need to be quarantined or not.

“All of a sudden now if we lose them for 14 days because they have to be quarantined, we lose a third of a shift,” he said.

Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said while the zip codes are more information than what they had before, it’s still not enough.

Vaught said he wants to know details, such as COVID-19 hotspots and demographics of people who test positive.

“Certainly as a county we’re not going to go out there and try to inflame the public and try to create a panic, we’re going to use that information as needed to plan a response,” he said.

Josh Rhodes, deputy executive director of SCAC, echoed the same sentiments.

He said initially they requested the addresses of infected people because zip codes can be very broad depending on the area. They continue to work with DHEC to get more specific locations.

“We don’t think that’s going to satisfy the need of needing to know where these patients are so we can protect our people and the community,” Rhodes said.

The letter can be read in its entirety below:

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