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Coronavirus: The latest local updates, cancellations, resources, + more

Coronavirus I Image via @6AMCity

Major Local Announcements

The Columbia City Council is discussing a new mask ordinance with businesses in mind + increased fines for repeat offenders. (WACH Fox)

In an effort to prevent vaccine appointment cancellations, DHEC announced it will soon change the way it allocates vaccines. The new system will better provide second dose vaccines when they need to be given + help providers have a better understanding of the allotment they’ll receive. (WLTX)

DHEC launched a new online resource this week to provide information about the demographics of those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. The dashboard is updated daily and includes the age group, gender, race, and ethnicity based on the information that is recorded by the providers for the people they are vaccinating in South Carolina. 

○ Prisma Health is reducing its number of vaccination sites by half (from 12 to six) in an effort to better manage their vaccine administration. The reduction will take three weeks + Richland and Baptist Parkridge will move their services to Gamecock Park and Baptist Columbia, respectively, on Feb. 22. (ABC Columbia)

A classroom at the Richland Two Institute of Innovation is designing and printing face shields, mask supports, and special cameras to assist teachers with online learning. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the classroom has produced 150+ shields and cameras + has set up a spreadsheet for the district to make requests when PPE is needed. (Post and Courier)

The UofSC School of Medicine and the Columbia VA announced a partnership to repurpose lab equipment to conduct COVID-19 testing for students, employees, and veterans. The system will process up to 400 tests per day + provide results in as little as 24 hours. (Soda City BizWire)

○ Lexington Medical Center has updated its visitation policy. The changes allow one visitor in the emergency department (for non-COVID cases), one visitor for non-COVID inpatients between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., a spouse or support person in obstetrics during labor and following delivery, one support person in the special care nursery, and one visitor for surgical and procedural areas.

DHEC has expanded the group of those eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to include residents 65 and older, regardless of preexisting conditions. The additional group will be able to make vaccine appointments on Monday. (WIS)  

○ The City of Columbia Council has extended the face mask ordinance for 61 days, continuing until the beginning of April. Mayor Steve Benjamin is working with the council on creating additional penalties for individuals and businesses that repeatedly violate the order. (WLTX) 

The City of Cayce extended its face mask ordinance through March 29. Masks are required in locations open to the general public inside city limits. (WLTX)

According to DHEC officials, the nation’s first two known cases of the South African variant of COVID-19 have been confirmed in South Carolina. No travel history is linked to the two cases and they are located in the Lowcountry + Pee Dee regions.

○ DHEC confirmed the first case of the United Kingdom COVID-19 variant in South Carolina over the weekend. The reported case is in an adult in the Pee Dee area. (WLTX)

Gov. Henry McMaster and Superintendent Molly Spearman gave an update on the South Carolina vaccination plan yesterday asking all South Carolina school districts to submit a plan of action to get teachers vaccinated for when they become eligible. As of yesterday, 25 out of the 79 school districts do not have a plan in place. (WIS)

Residents + team members in Merrill Gardens’ communities (including right here in Columbia) began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in early January. Here’s an update on how it’s going.

Nephron Pharmaceuticals is gearing up to meet the needs of the community with their new vaccine production wing. The company is actively looking for a vaccine production partner to provide the ammunition for the prefilled sterile syringes that make up its 503B Outsourcing Facility arm. 💉

DHEC announced that the federal government will increase South Carolina’s vaccine doses by 16%. Beginning next week, the state agency will receive 72,600 doses for at least the next three weeks, which is an increase of approx. 10,000 vaccines. (WLTX) 

SC DHEC officials have added parents of medically fragile or severely disabled children to the group eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. This adds approx. 3,000 people to the list. (WIS)

○ Hospital patients 65 or older (who haven’t tested positive for COVID-19) have been added to Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan. DHEC is encouraging hospitals to vaccinate these patients to ensure the most vulnerable are vaccinated quickly.

DHEC has plans to release a new COVID-19 vaccine appointment scheduler by the end of this week. The system should help simplify the process for those looking to make appointments. DHEC is also working on establishing a vaccine-only call center to better serve those in need of assistance. (WIS)

○ South Carolina lawmakers voted to advance a $208 million COVID-19 relief bill, which will assist the vaccination efforts in the state. Vaccine providers, hospitals, and DHEC would use the funds to cover vaccine expenses. (WLTX)

○ A team of researchers at UofSC, along with Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group Division of Infectious Diseases, is looking for test subjects to help study COVID-19’s effect on the brain. Participants must be at least 20 years old, have tested positive for the virus, and have been recovered for 28 days. Testing will include virtual surveys, virtual memory and attention testing, an MRI + more. Find more information and how to sign up here. (WLTX)

New visitation restrictions went into effect at Prisma Health hospitals. In general, visitation has been paused and hospital staff will facilitate virtual visits for patients. Limited visitation guidelines have been set for pediatric, OB, patients undergoing a sedative procedure and end-of-life situations. (Cola Daily)

Beginning on Thurs., Jan. 21, the City of Columbia municipal courthouse payment windows and drive-thru will be open for payments and any other inquiries. In-person court appearances are still suspended.

○ DHEC and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation announced a joint order that has expanded the number of medical professionals in the state who are able to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. The expansion includes personnel with current certifications by certain certifying boards, students of an accredited medical school with appropriate instruction and documented training + registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who have retired, become inactive, or whose licenses have lapsed within the last five years but were in good standing.

○ SC DHEC has announced the opening of 150+ critical positions to support widespread COVID-19 vaccination in South Carolina, including nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, administrative support, and other key personnel. Click here to get more information or apply for a position.

The City of West Columbia extended its emergency mask mandate, which is now in effect through March 1, 2021. Those who do not comply with the ordinance can be fined up to $25. (WLTX) 

The Town of Lexington passed a face mask ordinance that will remain in effect until May 1, 2021, unless it’s otherwise rescinded.The previous ordinance expired in November and was renewed in a 5-2 vote. (WLTX) 

Initial unemployment claims rose in South Carolina to 9,328 claims the week of Jan. 2, from 4,777 the week of Dec. 26. This climb is the highest initial total since 12,194 claims were filed at the end of July, according to the SC Department of Employment and Workforce. (CRBR) 

While there are no confirmed cases in South Carolina, DHEC is monitoring the new variant of COVID-19 that has been confirmed in Colorado and California. DHEC also stated that while the virus does appear to spread between individuals quicker, there’s no evidence that the new variant causes a more severe illness. (WIS) 

DHEC is encouraging all SC residents to respond to legitimate contact tracing calls + emails from public health officials, while remaining vigilant against scams. Legitimate contact tracing includes two components: case investigations and contact monitoring. If you test positive for COVID-19, a contact tracer from DHEC will call you – and only ask you these questions.

SC Department of Employment and Workforce has begun distributing $300 of federal supplemental benefits in addition to the weekly unemployment payments. This funding comes from the Continued Assistance Act that passed in December. (CRBR) 

○ DHEC launched a “Fight the Spread” campaign as rates of asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 increase. The campaign reminds SC residents to wear masks, practice social distancing + get tested. (ABC Columbia)

○ SCDHEC announced that the organization is launching a new immunization information system that will help ensure access + availability of essential immunizations to everyone in SC. The Statewide Immunization Online Network (SIMON) will provide a streamlined process for immunization providers to manage vaccine inventory in addition to providing patient reminders and offering a patient portal to view immunization records. (WLTX)

EBT cards can be used to purchase eligible food items online through Walmart and Amazon in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

○ The South Carolina House and Senate passed the proposal for how the second round of COVID-19 funding would be spent. The majority of the funding – $420 million – will go towards the state’s unemployment fund. (WIS)

In an effort to fight COVID-19 in the state’s correct system, the SC Department of Corrections announced a plan to spend $1 million on air ionizers, which will be attached to ventilation systems and help kill the virus. Funds for the project will come from internal canteen funds + officials have been encouraged to apply for CARES Act funding. (WIS)

○ The South Carolina Hospital Association announced that $100,000 in grants have been distributed to frontline healthcare staff that were impacted by COVID-19. Applications were received from hospital employees in 26 facilities and included healthcare workers from pharmacy technicians to security officers and food service staff. The committee’s review process prioritized applicants who experienced financial or other personal impacts. (Metro Columbia CEO)

DHEC and UofSC are partnering for SC Strong, a statewide, science-guided, year-long project, which will provide information about disease infection + immunity over time and will help identify health inequities. A total of 32,500 South Carolinians have been randomly selected to take part in the first round of testing and will receive a blue envelope in the mail. Participation includes two steps – first complete an online survey and then take one free COVID-19 test.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SCEMD is changing parts of the Statewide Hurricane Plan. Officials encourage evacuees to use shelters as a last resort + stay with friends or family inland. More buses will be added to help evacuate affected areas while maintaining social distancing. Click here to download SCEMD’s app to receive important notifications. (WLTX)

Columbia Animal Services has created a free food pantry for those who are struggling to provide food to their pets. Those who are needing pet food can contact the shelter + those who would like to support the pantry can drop off donations outside the shelter, located at 127 Humane Lane, or in the food donations box inside. (WLTX)


Schedule Changes + Closures 

○ Lexington Chamber and Visitors Center has postponed Dining On The Dam until April 10, 2022. The dinner event was originally postponed to March 28 and guests who will be unable to attend on the new date are eligible for a full refund. 

The 2021 Gamecock Softball season is not allowing fans in the stadium this year but you can still ensure your face (or your pet’s) makes it to every game at Beckham Field. Fan Cutouts are currently being sold and will be available to take home as a souvenir after the season. All proceeds from the fan cutouts will benefit the Athletics COVID-19 Resilience Fund. 

Tartan Day South, which is a four-day festival that celebrates Celtic heritage at the Historic Columbia Speedway, has been cancelled for 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. The 2022 event is currently scheduled for March 31-April 3. (Cola Daily)

○ The Five Points Association announced that the annual St. Pats in Five Points will not take place as the traditional large festival in 2021. However, the event committee is planning on a reduced version of the event, details of which haven’t been determined. (Post and Courier) 

○ The Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classican annual hunting, fishing, and outdoor expo held at the State Fairgroundshas been cancelled for the second year in a row due to coronavirus concerns. The event was originally scheduled for March 26-28 + the 2022 event is currently scheduled for March 25-27. (The State)

○ Yesterday, Augusta National Golf Club announced plans for a limited audience to attend the 85th Masters Tournament, which is scheduled for April 5-11. Those who are not chosen to attend will be issued a refund. (WSPA)

After struggling to gather funding due to the coronavirus pandemic, the City of Columbia has put the $18 million renovation plan for Finlay Park on hold. The plan, which includes a new stage and reshaping the waterways, was in part relying on a 2% food and drink tax. According to Mayor Benjamin, the hold is hopefully temporary + city officials stated that the US National Whitewater Center is interested in picking back up with the plan when the economy recovers. (Post and Courier) 

○ The South Carolina High School League has reported that approximately 40% of the 400 scheduled basketball games have been cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus. Tournaments like the Chick-fil-A Classic and the Cayce Roundball Classic are also cancelled. (Cola Daily) 

○ Crash Course Columbia announced that it has moved all tour dates to 2021. Crash Course Columbia is a behind the scenes look at popular Columbia attractions hosted by Columbia Opportunity Resource.

The Rosé Festival has been postponed until May 16, 2021 due to coronavirus concerns. Those who purchased tickets can email F2T Productions for a refund or transfer their ticket to the 2021 date. Check out other 2021 event dates by F2T Productions here.

○ Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour stop at the Colonial Life Arena has been rescheduled to April 20, 2022. Those who purchased tickets for the previous date will be able to use them in 2022. (WIS)


Community Resources + Support 

○ Richland Library is now offering mobile self-checkout at each location. Customers are able to use the feature by scanning a QR code with their phones + logging into their Richland Library accounts. (Soda City BizWire)

○ DHEC launched a new hotline, with 240 operators, to help answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines. The phone line will operate daily from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and is available by calling (866) 365-8110. (WIS)

Beginning tomorrow, The COMET is launching a coronavirus vaccine campaign, “Don’t Miss Your Shot”, which is aimed to provide free transportation for those who are eligible to major vaccination sites in Richland and Lexington counties. In addition to The COMET bus routes, there are three other programs to serve those with disabilities needing transportation, including DART, PUP, and V-TRIP. (WIS)

Carowinds announced that it is planning to reopen on May 22. There will be several safety precautions in place, including health screening, face masks and an app. 🎢 (WLTX) 

How can I stay connected and support my loved ones, even if I can’t see them in person? Psychiatrist Melanie Lobel, MD, with Lexington Medical Specialists offers advice to support older adults during this time of isolation — read it here

○ South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority will use $25 million of CARES act funding to launch a program to provide assistance to renters and homeowners who have struggled to pay their bills as a result of the pandemic. The funding will be made available for rental + mortgage assistance to eligible low-income families. Those interested in applying for assistance can find more information here. (WCSC)

○ Uber has partnered with the United Way to offer free and discounted rides to individuals going to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, Lyft has committed to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination locations. (ABC Columbia + WIS) 

○ The COMET and DHEC are partnering to offer free COVID-19 tests to all passengers. DHEC has set up a testing kiosk at COMET Central,located on the corner of Sumter and Laurel streets, and testing will occur Wednesdays through Saturdays. 

DHEC released a dashboard, which provides detailed data from the county-level to look at the impacts of COVID-19 in SC. This dashboard was developed by DHEC’s data analysts, GIS specialists + epidemiologists using information gathered through the agency’s expansive coronavirus monitoring resources. View the dashboard here.

South Carolina Emergency Management Division created a map to track which municipalities are requiring face masks. Currently, 60 municipalities + 10 counties have an ordinance in place. Check out the map here.

○ Remaining aware of potential scam attempts is important. A contact tracer will never ask for your social security number, money, bank account or credit card number, or immigrant status. If you are concerned about whether a caller is a real DHEC official, verify their identity by asking them to send you an email (the address should end with or calling the DHEC regional epidemiology office to confirm the caller’s name and credentials. Learn about reporting potential scams here.

Uninsured South Carolina residents can apply for reimbursement of COVID-19 testing through the SC Department of Health and Human Services Limited Benefit Program. To qualify the test must be conducted by a healthcare provider who accepts Healthy Connections Medicaid. Those who were tested after March 18 may also apply for reimbursement. (WIS)

○ If you live in the Midlands or Upstate of South Carolina + someone in your household has a disability, you may qualify for a free COVID-19 Sanitation Kit from Able SC. Some items in the kit include face masks, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and more. To get more information and sign-up, click here or call (803) 779-5121.

 ○ The SC Department of Mental Health released a toll-free number for those who speak Spanish. The anonymous Spanish support line is available Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. (Cola Daily)

○ UofSC’s COVID-19 dashboard is live. The website reports current conditions on campus and shows a breakdown of total cases. (UofSC)

○ The South Carolina Bar + South Carolina Legal Services have partnered to create a hotline service that is available to state residents facing evictions or other housing-related legal issues due to the coronavirus. The toll-free hotline can be reached at 1-833-958-2266. Callers are asked to leave a message with details about the help requested + contact information. (CRBR)

○ The City of Columbia has launched the Resilient Columbia CARES Act Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) Program from the $2.9 million in funding. The loan application + required checklist cover page are available on the Resilient Columbia website. (Metro Columbia CEO)


Business and Employment Resources 

SC Department of Employment and Workforce has released a new app that will allow users to certify weekly unemployment claims + monitor the claim status. The app is free and can also be used to track payment history and previous correspondence. To download the resource, search “SC DEW” in your phone’s mobile app store. (CRBR) 

○ The Paycheck Protection Program reopened for those that missed the last round of funding + specific current borrowers. The federal program is attempting to support small business by providing funding to cover 10 weeks of payroll to prevent layoffs and restaurants will also be eligible to apply for payroll coverage up to 15 weeks. (Post and Courier) 

The SC Department of Employment and Workforce has created an online hub with resources for workers whose employment has been affected by COVID-19. 

If you are out of work due to the pandemic, you can use this link to file for unemployment.

The Columbia Chamber has compiled a list of resources, which will continue to be updated as more information is available, for businesses navigating the coronavirus pandemic. Check out the resources here.

SC Gov. Henry McMaster issued Executive Order 2020-22, which allows furloughed employees to receive “COVID-19 Support Payments” from their employers and still qualify for unemployment benefits.

○ SC Department of Employment and Workforce announced that SC was approved for the Lost Wages Assistance program. Eligible claimants can receive an additional $300 per week. (WLTX)


Educational Resources 

○ South Carolina’s schools will receive ~$900 million in one-time federal grants to help reopen schools + improve classroom safety for students, teachers, and staff. $846 million has been directed to public schools and $40 million for private schools. (The State)

Pine Ridge Middle School in Lexington School District Two will return to virtual learning this week for two weeks after more than 5% of students tested positive for COVID-19. District officials are planning to go back to in-person learning on March 1. (WIS)

Dr. Christine DiStefano, a professor in UofSC’s College of Education, conducted a study on the stressors of distance learning for families and teachers. Her results showed that, among other things, teachers were more stressed last fall than last spring, there is a significant number of missing assignments + that overall, teachers are proud of themselves and parents are grateful for the schools. (WLTX)

○ Richland School District One will return to a hybrid schedule (with two in-person days a week) next week. The days will be broken up into two cohorts and all students will learn virtually on Fridays. (The State)

Richland School District One began offering COVID-19 tests for students + staff. Testing will continue to be available for those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms with signed consent forms and the tests will be administered by Prisma Health staff. (WIS)

South Carolina public schools will receive $84 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. These funds can only be spent to purchase safety equipment such as PPE, hire school nurses + buy equipment to assist with online learning. View how much Richland and Lexington school districts will receive here. (The State) 

Richland School District One has adjusted the pickup time for meals for virtual students from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., which adds time for the families to take advantage of the free meal program. (WLTX) 

South Carolina public K-12 schools will receive approx. $900 millionfrom the federal $2.3 trillion COVID-19 spending package that passed on Dec. 21. Funds will be distributed to school districts based on populations and poverty ratings – the breakdown of these funds hasn’t yet been decided. Local school boards will decide how the funds are spent. (Post and Courier) 

○ The SC Department of Education has released a new website to provide information and resources encouraging social emotional learning for students and teachers. The website has lessons available for elementary, middle and high school level students + online training for teachers. (CRBR)

EdVenture Children’s Museum is offering educational programs, including videos and downloadable activities, for children to do at home. New resources will be posted to their website each day. (WLTX)

○ DHEC has created an activity book, titled “Why Can’t I”, to help young children understand the effects of COVID-19. The book includes coloring activities and explanations of why everyone needs to wash their hands, stay home when they don’t feel well + cover their coughs. Download the book here.

In an effort to help balance virtual learning and working from home, CoCreate Lexington, a female-focused coworking space, is launching CoCreate Academy, a safe learning environment for children. Children will be supervised by a teacher and be in small groups, which will meet twice a week for 3.5 hours. One parent of participating children will receive a CoCreate Lexington membership.

The state plans to use SCETV’s television signal to deliver school lessons to students without broadband internet access through a process called datacasting. The plan is intended to broaden accessibility until broadband access can be expanded across the state. (WLTX)


Health Care Resources

CDC Resources

World Health Organization Resources

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available, but what should you do if you are pregnant, considering pregnancy or nursing? Kacey Eichelberger, MD, shares what you need to know. 💉

Nephron Pharmaceuticals + Dominion Energy have partnered to open a new COVID-19 vaccination site in West Columbia off Interstate 77 at exit 2. Nephron will offer Moderna vaccines by appointment to South Carolina residents who are currently eligible. To make an appointment, call 803-381-1045. (WIS)

○ Beginning on Thurs., Feb. 11, CVS Health will start to administer COVID-19 vaccines to eligible populations. Appointments will be available as early as Feb. 9 at 17 CVS Pharmacy locations across South Carolina. (WIS)

Prisma Health’s COVID-19 vaccine timeline, distribution updates and other frequently asked questions can be found on their website. Check back often for updates, which will be posted as they become available.

Prisma Health is opening a large-scale community COVID-19 vaccination site near Williams-Brice Stadium, at 22 National Guard Rd., which will be open Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m -5 p.m. The site will be by appointment only. More information about the vaccination process + how to request an appointment can be found here. (WLTX)

Kroger announced that it has a limited amount of COVID-19 vaccines for those who are eligible by appointment at four locations in the Midlands – including Two Notch Road, Forest Drive, St. Andrews Road, + Roberts Branch Parkway. To make an appointment, visit this website. (WIS) 

Prisma Health is now allowing those 70 and older to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments in person, which will be available at every health site except Richland Hospital. Officials stated there will only be a limited number of same day registration/vaccination appointments. (WIS)  

South Carolina Publix locations will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to those who are eligible. Appointments will be necessary and became available this morning at 6 a.m. + can be made here. (WIS)

Looking for a free COVID-19 test this week? Check out this list of numerous free testing locations throughout the Midlands. (WLTX)

Planning to utilize one of the drive-thru coronavirus testing sites? Here’s what you need to know before you go. (The State)

According to DHEC, most individuals, especially those who are frequently around others, are encouraged to get tested for coronavirus once a month. Read more about their suggestions here. (The State)

Fairfield COVID-19 Taskforce is offering a CT scan for diagnosing the coronavirus with results within 24 hours. CT scans are now recommended by the World Health Organization, as the ‘nose swab’ tests can be delayed. Read more about the taskforce here.


Community Conversations

○  The need-to-know on COVID-19 vaccines in South Carolina

Development update on Nephron Pharmaceuticals’ expansion

○  Let’s play (20)21 questions 

The 2021-2022 Fiscal Year Executive Budget proposal

How 6 Richland County manufacturers are giving back

Senior grocery resources in Columbia

COVID-19’s impact on travel and tourism in Columbia, SC

7 local businesses with immune boosting products

Mental health tips + resources in Columbia