Columbia, SC nurse guilty in phony COVID card scheme

A 53-year-old Columbia nurse pleads guilty Wednesday morning in federal court to lying to federal agents about whether she had produced phony COVID-19 vaccination cards for non-vaccinated people.

“How do you plead to this charge?” US Judge Terry Wooten asked the nurse, Tammy McDonald, director of nursing at a PruittHealth skilled nursing facility.

“Guilty,” replied McDonald, standing beside her lawyer, Jim Griffin of Columbia.

Lying to a federal agent is a felony with a five-year maximum prison sentence.

Evidence in the case showed that McDonald had produced the phony cards last June at a family gathering and again in July to help “various family members,” assistant US Attorney Derek Shoemake told Wooten.

McDonald knew the individuals for whom she was producing the sham cards “did not, in fact, receive the vaccine as noted on the cards,” Shoemake said.

A tipster provided initial information in the case, filing a complaint with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control that McDonald was giving false COVID vaccination cards to others, Shoemake said.

Federal agents from the FBI and Health and Human Services evaluated the matter, then McDonald at work. She told the agents she had never given anyone a false COVID-19 vaccination card, Shoemake said.

McDonald will be on Sept. 20. She will be free on bond until then.

Wooten said whether he gives McDonald prison or probation depends on matters such as how cooperative she is and the results of a pre-sentence investigation between now and September.

McDonald was originally charged in a November indictment with two counts of producing sham COVID-19 vaccination cards. Evidence in her case indicated she used real vaccination cards and filled them out with information indicating individuals had been vaccinated when, in fact, they had not.

The COVID-19 vaccination cards were issued in response to proclamations in 2020 declaring the highly contagious airborne disease a national emergency.

At the time, there were no vaccines and few people had died in the US Since then, more than a million people quality — and 6.3 million worldwide — have died because of COVID-19. Vaccines developed in late 2020 are credited with helping to prevent more deaths and hospitalizations.

Vaccination providers are required to give anyone getting a COVID-19 shot a card showing the patient’s name and date of birth, what kind of vaccine it is, the vaccine’s lot number, the date of the shot and the location where the shot was given. The cards are used to identify people who have been vaccinated and can be useful in various situations, such as travel.

So far 2.9 million South Carolinians, or 58% of the state’s population, are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Nationwide, 221 million people, or 67% of the population, are fully vaccinated. About 83% of the population has gotten at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A US Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including those of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins and child killer Tim Jones. Monk’s hobbies include hiking, books, languages, music and a lot of other things.

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