CDC director addresses impact of COVID-19 on South Carolina with state leaders, discusses solutions & resources

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – Addressing the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on South Carolina. The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield met with state leaders like officials with DHEC and Governor Henry McMaster Thursday to discuss that very topic.

A room full of powerful people in Columbia Thursday afternoon. That includes Governor Henry McMaster, state health leaders and the director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield.

“I thought I understood addiction until it entered by own family and I realized I had no concept of what it really meant to effectively deal with addiction,” said Director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield.

The focus of that talk was the toll the pandemic is having on the state like an uptick in overdoses and mental health emergencies. According to DHEC, suspected opioid overdoses are 50% higher from January to August this year when compared to the same time period in 2019. 

Dr. Redfield offered his advice on how to combat the growing trends. He said the first thing to do is fix the stigma around it all.

“We need to renormalize addiction treatment for what it is, a chronic relapsing medical condition,” Dr. Redfield said.

He also took time to shift away from the impact of COVID-19 to discuss his thoughts on the state’s response to the pandemic, applauding the action that has been taken.

“South Carolina was obviously hit hard during the southern surge and I think they have really put that into action,” said Dr. Redfield.

Dr. Redfield and DHEC leaders also discussed daily precautions South Carolinians can take to protect their mental and emotional health during this pandemic. That includes taking a break from social media, staying connected with family and friends and not hesitating to reach out if you need help.

You can find mental health resources below, along with a press release from DHEC that includes additional details on Thursday’s discussion.

DHEC Press Release:

During a visit from the nation’s top public health official today, national and state leaders discussed the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on South Carolina communities, including opioid use, chronic diseases and mental health.

Centers for Disease Control Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, Governor Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), state officials and others stressed the need to address indirect health effects of COVID-19 during a roundtable discussion.

“Team South Carolina and the CDC are united in the fight against the physical and mental health problems created by COVID-19,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “We will continue to provide resources and tools South Carolinians need to get through these challenging times, and I call on all South Carolinians to do their part in checking on loved ones who may be experiencing hardships.”

“COVID-19 has shown a far-reaching impact on the health of our communities, not only from the disease itself but from its impacts on our physical and mental health,” said Interim Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler. “To protect the health and safety of all South Carolinians requires a broad response from many partners on many levels, and we’re committed to such a response.”

As the fight against COVID-19 continues and the flu season and holidays approach, South Carolinians are reminded to stay as healthy as possible – physically, mentally and emotionally.

“It’s important to continue taking this pandemic seriously,” said CDC Director Dr. Redfield. “Please continue to be smart about crowds, particularly indoors. Continue to wear a face mask. And continue to wash your hands. Also, as people spend more time indoors in the fall and winter, the risk of flu and COVID-19 will rise. We can help take flu out of that equation. I urge the American public to embrace flu vaccination with confidence.”

In South Carolina, many of those who have died due to COVID-19 also had one or more other conditions: 60.4 percent also had cardiovascular disease, 34.6 percent had diabetes, 30.9 percent had a neurologic or intellectual disability, 22.7 percent had COPD, 21.2 percent had kidney disease, 13 percent had congestive heart failure and 12.3 percent had a previous stroke.

“We know that people with limited access to care and who are affected by conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. “This is particularly true for our communities of color and older populations. That’s why it’s critical for all of us to do our part to help each other stay healthy and strong by keeping up to date on our medications, wellness visits and vaccinations like the flu shot.”

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and opioid abuse was also discussed during the roundtable. Earlier this year, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) and South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) launched a statewide support line for those in need of mental health or substance use services.

“The Department of Mental Health recognizes that the pandemic has caused increased stress for individuals and families,” said DMH State Director Dr. Kenneth M. Rogers. “In addition to mental health centers that provide services in all South Carolina counties, including in-person and telehealth visits, we have a statewide hotline available at 1-844-SC-HOPES (724-6737). The hotline connects callers to trained clinicians who can address their specific needs.”

Another challenge of COVID-19’s burden on emotional and mental health is an increase in opioid overdoses. Suspected opioid overdoses are 50 percent higher from January to August this year when compared to the same time period in 2019. DHEC, DAODAS and DMH are working together with local police and fire departments to train responders to recognize the signs of opioid abuse and help prevent opioid deaths.

“As South Carolinians grapple with the stressors accompanying COVID-19, we are seeing increased use of all substances, including alcohol,” said DAODAS Director Sara Goldsby.  “Coordination between state and local agencies has been critical to ensuring that services for these individuals remain safe and accessible. Such continuity of care and connection to help are extremely important for families struggling through these crises.”

In addition to taking the daily precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, South Carolinians are encouraged to help protect their mental and emotional health by:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about COVID-19 or other stress-inducing issues repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep; and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind and participate in fun or relaxing activities. Connect with others. Talk with family and friends.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It’s OK to need assistance to stay mentally healthy.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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