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Recognizing the urgent need for expanded COVID-19 testing along the Grand Strand, Tidelands Health has joined the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Pee Dee Region Testing Coalition and is partnering to launch a large-scale community testing program in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

Tidelands Health will serve as one of the medical leads for the Grand Strand, along with other partners in the coalition. Free testing clinics for individuals will begin in the coming days and will continue into the summer based on availability of testing supplies. DHEC will supply the testing media, and Tidelands Health will donate manpower to staff the free clinics.

Testing clinics will be open to all area residents. Pre-screening is not required, and there will be no charge to be tested. Individuals under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to give consent for testing.

Tidelands Health, which has been a regional leader in COVID-19 testing and response, will also continue to offer medical assessments and testing for symptomatic patients at various Tidelands Health Family Medicine locations as it has done since March.

The initial goal is to conduct 8,000 tests – representing 2 percent of the region’s total population – by the end of June.

“COVID-19 testing of both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals is of paramount importance to help us understand the spread of the virus in our region, particularly as tourist season begins,” said Bruce Bailey, Tidelands Health president and CEO. “As our region’s largest health care provider, we are pleased to work alongside our partners at DHEC to better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities and work to slow its spread.”

Specific locations, dates and times for the testing clinics will be announced in the coming days, with clinics planned across the three-county region. In addition to various Tidelands Health locations, testing sites will include the Myrtle Beach Pelicans stadium, the Coastal Carolina University campus and other community locations.

“The best way to understand the impact that this virus is having on our community is to test for it,” said James Bruckner, DHEC’s Pee Dee regional public health director. “By working with local partners like Tidelands Health, we’re taking a boots-on-the-ground approach to ensure that our residents have access to testing so that they can continue to take the steps they need to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We have made the mobile testing clinics easy for our residents through the regional testing coalition.”

Area leaders praised the expanded testing, saying it will make the region safer for residents and visitors.

“Additional testing will allow us to quickly identify individuals with the virus – even those who may have no symptoms – and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune. “This is a critical step forward, and I extend my thanks to DHEC and Tidelands Health for making this possible for the people of our region.”

Georgetown Mayor Brendon Barber said expanded testing will allow for early identification, isolation and treatment, providing reassurance to area residents.

“The more we know, the better prepared we can be,” Barber said. “I encourage area residents to take advantage of this opportunity to be tested – not only for your own peace of mind but also for the good of our community. Stay safe. Stay strong.”

Added Beth Stedman, president and CEO of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, “Free testing for community residents is so important as we continue to respond to COVID-19. It’s wonderful to see our state and local community health system working together for the health of our region.”

And Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, praised expanded testing as “an important next step.”

“The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber is pleased to hear that Tidelands Health and DHEC will offer more coronavirus testing for residents of Horry County,” Riordan said. “This is an important next step in ensuring that our residents are safe and that we are proactively identifying and managing cases as visitors begin to come back to the Myrtle Beach area.”