Hospitals across South Carolina are imposing strict visitation limits in response to a severe outbreak of seasonal influenza that is straining healthcare systems statewide. The moves come as flu hospitalizations have skyrocketed over 50% in recent weeks, with more infections expected through January.
Prisma Health Announces Restrictions as Child Cases Spike
On December 26, Prisma Health announced new temporary visitation restrictions at all of its hospitals and clinics in the face of rapidly rising flu and respiratory illness rates.
Effective December 28, visitors under age 18 are no longer allowed, with few exceptions. The policy applies to Prisma’s entire service area, including facilities in the Upstate, Midlands and Pee Dee regions.
In a statement, a Prisma spokesperson cited “a significant increase in influenza cases among young patients” as one driver of the change. Pediatric bed capacity is reportedly stretched thin.
Additionally, most adult inpatients at Prisma locations will now be limited to only one designated visitor per day. Expectant mothers may have two visitors, while end-of-life patients can have more on a case-by-case basis.
Prisma says the measures will remain in place temporarily to help mitigate virus transmission and ease staff burdens as influenza continues to accelerate statewide.
Spartanburg Regional Discourages Non-Urgent ER Visits
On December 27, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System released its own plea for community support in light of rising illnesses. While not outright restricting visitation, the hospital network is “strongly encouraging” that only visitors going to see critically ill patients come to Spartanburg Regional facilities at this time.
In a press release, the health system noted its emergency departments are “experiencing extremely high volumes” as flu sends more residents seeking medical care. Spartanburg Regional is asking community members to avoid its ERs unless they are facing an actual emergency.
Leaders say outpatient clinics and virtual care options can handle many other health issues, helping preserve strained hospital capacity for the most severe cases.
What’s Driving the Sudden Flu Surge?
Both Prisma Health and Spartanburg Regional pointed to an unusually early seasonal spike in influenza as a main driver of the visitation policy changes.
After two years of relatively mild flu seasons amid COVID precautions, this year’s dominant H3N2 strain has led to a swift statewide surge since early December.
Some key factors health officials cite:
- Immunity Gap: Fewer natural exposures during COVID created an immunity gap this year, leaving more people vulnerable
- H3N2 Severity: The H3N2 strain often leads to more complications than other flu types
- Early Spike: Peaking in December is unusually early, raising concerns about a prolonged season
Additionally, COVID, RSV and other respiratory bugs continue circulating simultaneously, overburdening hospital staff.
What Comes Next?
Health leaders indicate South Carolina has yet to hit the peak of flu season, despite already nearing hospitalization rates not typical until February. The CDC estimates the season could last through May.
Accordingly, facilities like Prisma and Spartanburg Regional say they expect visitation restrictions to continue for several weeks. The policies will remain flexible based on community illness trends.
In the meantime, health officials are urging vaccination and other preventative steps to help slow viral spread. However, significant flu activity is expected statewide through winter.
|Statewide (Upstate/Midlands/Pee Dee)
|Discouraging any visitors not going to critically ill patients
The swift move by multiple major SC health systems to curb visitation speaks to the pressing strain this early and intense influenza season is putting on hospitals throughout the state. While public cooperation with protective policies can help, health leaders say resources will continue being stretched for weeks by ongoing high admission rates.
Flu Prevention Remains Key
With the flu season not yet peaked, officials emphasize that vaccination and healthy habits are the best tools South Carolinians have to slow the accelerating outbreak. Key prevention tips include:
- Get the annual flu shot if you have not already
- Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face
- Cough/sneeze into sleeve rather than hands
- Avoid contact with sick individuals when possible
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces often
- Stay home if feeling ill
Following public health guidance is imperative not only to prevent influenza infections but also to preserve scarce healthcare system capacity during this active flu season.
Hospital leaders pledge that essential medical care will continue being available throughout the outbreak. However, with child and adult admission rates still trending up, visitation restrictions and capacity strains may get more pronounced before the situation improves.
Officials say the ultimate duration and severity of the 2022-2023 influenza season depends heavily on mitigation steps taken by individuals and institutions statewide in coming weeks. An early peak and swift declines in flu activity represent the best-case scenario. In the meantime, hospital visitation limits reflect the reality of an overtaxed healthcare system flooded with influenza patients.
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