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One year after pandemic started, SC nursing homes nearing full vaccination

A year after the pandemic started in South Carolina, most nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state are on their way to full vaccination.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Coronavirus cases and deaths in U.S. nursing homes are dropping, and doctors credit the vaccine. 

Nursing homes in the U.S. reported a peak of nearly 6,000 virus related deaths in a single week of December 2020. By February, that was down 63% to about 2,200 deaths in a week and new cases are down 82% since the December peak.

RELATED: Nursing home COVID cases down 82% since December; doctors credit vaccine

"I have no doubt that these efforts have saved lives," said Nick Davidson, SCDHEC Senior Deputy for Public Health.

Most nursing homes and assisted living facilities in South Carolina are now on their way to full vaccination.

"Now, one year later, we are able to say that nearly every long-term care facility resident and worker in the state has had the opportunity to be vaccinated against this deadly virus," Davidson said.

To date, 59,536 residents and 36,346 staff members in South Carolina long term care facilities are fully vaccinated.

The result, doctors say, is fewer coronavirus cases and deaths.

"That does, in part, reflect the number of vaccine doses that have gone to nursing home residents and staff," said Dr. Jane Kelly, Assistant State Epidemiologist for SCDHEC.

RELATED: DHEC's new vaccination dashboard provides more information, cleaner data

Before vaccine distribution began, shortly after the December peak in nursing home deaths, many South Carolina families pulled loved ones out of nursing homes and switched to at-home care.

"We definitely have had an uptick in business," said Melisa McLeod, Owner of McLeod Home Care.

McLeod Home Care covers 10 South Carolina counties with over 100 employees. McLeod says noticeable business growth began in January.

"[Families had to] either pull them out because of the scare of COVID or change their decision whether they want to go ahead and put their parent in an assisted living or nursing home," said McLeod.

While McLeod Home Care projects business to keep growing, they also predict some families to return loved ones back to assisted living facilities. The reasons include more residents being vaccinated, and stress placed on caregivers.

"There's been a lot of stress put on them with all of this. An extraordinary amount of stress," said McLeod. "Honestly, I think they've just pushed through and this is a window open to a new world for them. They're not in the COVID world necessarily anymore. They're seeing a light at the end of the tunnel."

To view the current state of COVID-19 in South Carolina assisted living facilities, view DHEC's online dashboard here.

For the latest on nursing home visitation guidelines in South Carolina, click here.