South Carolina’s primary health agency has already spent nearly $120 million to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, state legislators last were told last week. In 2021, COVID-19 could cost the state triple that amount.
The funds allocated to help pay for the effort are not going to be enough to carry the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control through the state’s largest-ever vaccination and testing campaigns unfolding this year.
Darbi MacPhail, the chief finance and operations officer for DHEC, told state legislators during a hearing the agency had spent $119.6 million on COVID-19 by Jan. 10. She also shared with them a projection that the virus will cost South Carolina $352.6 million this year.
The federal government has already committed to offset the majority of that expense. But DHEC is asking the state to find a way to chip in $62.6 million as well, given all of the relief funding has been used up.
How much it all really ends up costing will depend in part on whether the disease continues to run rampant or if cases decline to a more manageable level.
Here is how the biggest costs break down:
At $53 million, testing has been easily the largest expenditure so far. DHEC has processed more than four million tests since the pandemic began, Dr. Linda Bell, the agency’s chief epidemiologist, said. Bell commended her agency’s 4,000-person staff for logging more than 1 million work hours in COVID-19 response.
DHEC reported its vaccination effort had only cost $131,000 by Jan. 10. But as the inoculation initiative ramps up and continues over the entire year, it will cost a projected $106.9 million.
Staff costs totaled $29.8 million, while protective gear and other medical supplies have cost $12.2 million since the state’s first case was found in early March.
MacPhail said it is imperative the General Assembly steps in to ensure neither testing nor vaccination efforts fall off as the state grapples with the worst of the pandemic it has seen to date.
“What we are anticipating is such a huge demand for the vaccination at the same time as we are having to do testing,” MacPhail said. “We need to make sure we have resources readily available.”
Both the state House and Senate must agree to allocate that amount of money to the agency. Then it would have to pass Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk.
The costs, both in dollars and hours spent, are going to continue for years, MacPhail said during the House committee meeting. One federal grant that has been awarded provides funding over four years, a hint at the length of time public health experts anticipate the coronavirus will be top of mind.
By comparison, the agency’s full request for funds not related to COVID-19 was about $10 million this year.
Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.