City Paper file photo

Dr. Charlie Strange spent the last week treating patients in the intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina. As a physician specializing in pulmonary and critical care, he’s seen the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand. We caught up with him via phone Monday.

City Paper: What is the state of things right now at MUSC?

Dr. Charlie Strange: On a given day, we run numbers of ICU beds that are full most of the time, but the difference is that more than half of our ICU beds are full of previously unvaccinated COVID patients. So with 100 ICU beds, that means more than 50 of them are filled with patients that, with the vaccination, probably wouldn’t have been there.

CP: For so-called “breakthrough cases,” overall, that figure is somewhere closer to three-quarters of patients not fully vaccinated — is that what you’re seeing?

Strange | Photo provided

Strange: I’m an ICU physician, so recognize that most of the breakthrough cases of people partially or fully vaccinated tend to be mild and therefore don’t end up being in the hospital. So, the patients that make it to the ICU and therefore are at risk of losing their lives, are individuals that didn’t get vaccinated, for the most part.

CP: By the time patients see you in the ICU, how long have they been admitted?

Strange: The average patient has had symptoms about five days by the time they make it to the ICU. Just anecdotally, there was one girl that came into Trident hospital yesterday for the first day and died last night with her COVID pneumonia. So it can happen very quickly, or it can be a little bit more imbulent.

CP: When you interact with COVID patients, what’s their outlook on the disease now that they’ve been affected by it personally?

Strange: We get to talk to the survivors, and they are routinely changing their tune. And what we try and help them focus on is to let them head back out into the community with a message they can spread to their friends and family about vaccination. There have been some individuals that have taken it really, in a very positive way, to recognize that, “Yeah, I wish I’d done this before,” “I was just afraid before because of all the side effects that I hear in the news,” and those are the easiest people to convert. And then there are others that are anti-vaxxers in a much more strong way, and they’re much more difficult to convert. And yet, some of them do.

CP: What keeps you going?

Strange: We’ve had five pregnant patients in our ICU over the past two weeks at MUSC. And three of them have had C-sections and are still alive. Two of them still are carrying their babies and are still alive. We have a 100% success rate of pulling them through. They wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for us.

Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for clarity.

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