COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — Health leaders across the Carolinas have released a new report looking at South Carolina’s pandemic preparedness and response.

The South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH), hosted a press conference Wednesday to discuss the findings in its latest taskforce report.

According to officials, the report includes actionable recommendations to inform contagious disease outbreak planning and response based on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials said the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) and IMPH launched the Carolinas Pandemic Preparedness Taskforce to examine pandemic preparedness, response and recovery in North and South Carolina.

Formed in 2021, the task force included more than 80 experts and key perspectives from both states across many areas representing health departments, health care associations and health systems, health care providers, academia, community representatives, philanthropy, social services, behavioral health providers, advocates for vulnerable populations and public safety and emergency preparedness organizations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to lead to widespread societal changes,” says Maya Pack, Executive Director of IMPH. “It is of the utmost importance for us to not only document and learn from the pandemic but also find ways to inform and enact policy that will help South Carolina navigate the challenges presented by epidemics, pandemics and other contagious disease outbreaks.”

North and South Carolina taskforce members found commonalities in recommendations needed to address a number of factors related to the pandemic, including:

  • Promoting health equity
  • Developing a supported workforce
  • Strengthening data infrastructure
  • Improving the resiliency and flexibility of supply chain operations
  • Improving health care and behavioral health accessibility
  • Ensuring a system of education adaptable to virtual and hybrid learning needs

“The Carolinas Pandemic Preparedness Taskforce was guided by a focus on equity, a cross-sector approach to health and well-being and attention to the needs of vulnerable populations and historically marginalized communities,” says Dr. Harris Pastides, Carolinas Pandemic Preparedness Taskforce co-chair. “We must create the infrastructure, preparedness and response resources that will protect us all moving forward.”

The task force’s South Carolina-specific report includes recommendations addressing public health infrastructure, data, workforce, education, supply chain, health care delivery, behavioral health and telehealth and broadband.

The report also examines:

  • Health disparities that led to significant life expectancy losses beginning in 2020.
  • Case, hospitalization and mortality rates by race and ethnicity from 2020-22.
  • Foundational elements and competencies are critical to a strong public health infrastructure.
  • Workforce challenges in health care and public health worsened by COVID-19 and associated nationwide competition for a select workforce.
  • Opportunities for policies and initiatives to ensure individuals and groups on the local level are aware of state resources and vice versa.
  • Challenges associated with inaccurate predictive data-sharing early in the pandemic.
  • Policies to better support essential workers.

According to officials, the findings in this report are meant to be shared broadly to inform policies and practices to protect communities in the Carolinas today and in the future. For information on the task force, the contributors and more, access the full report.