WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster and health officials shared concerns about the continued spread of the coronavirus in South Carolina and a recent rise in cases.
Health officials started the news conference by announcing 528 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths.
“Today I am more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before,” Dr. Linda Bell, the State Epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Environmental Control, said. “For the past two weeks, we’ve seen some of our highest daily numbers since the pandemic began.”
She said there are two ways to stop the virus from spreading in the state: social distancing and wearing masks.
“We are all eager to return to our normal lives,” Bell said, “but it will take us that much longer to get there if we don’t stop the virus today.”
Bell urged everyone to social distance and wear masks not only to keep themselves healthy, but also to protect others who are most at risk. She said it’s clear that people in South Carolina are not doing it.
While Dr. Bell said Greenville is a new hot spot in the state, she said no residents are safe from the virus.
“Your community might not be a hot spot today, but there should be no mistake that COVID-19 transmission is still high and widespread in South Carolina at this time, and it remains a threat to all of us,” she said.
Bell added: “We know that what we’ve been asking everyone to do is not easy, but I can’t stress enough that it’s really absolutely necessary. And working together we can turn the tide on COVID-19 and help save more lives in South Carolina.”
The epidemiologist also said she’s concerned about large gatherings people may be planning for the summer, especially community events around the Fourth of July holiday.
“We began to see the increasing trends several days after the Memorial Day weekend,” she said.
In recent days, there have been some spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases reported in the state. On Monday, nearly 550 new cases were reported.
To look at those numbers within the context of how much testing is being done, the percent positive has also been rising as of late, as Dr. Bell mentioned.
Percent positive refers to the number of positive cases in relation to the number of tests performed each day.
The fact that the percent positive is rising could mean the state is doing less testing than needed.
But in this case, it also indicates more sickness in the community.
“It tells us more people than we would hope for who are being tested are sick,” Bell said.
Gov. McMaster echoed Bell’s comments urging residents to take greater precautions about COVID-19.
He said it’s up to individuals to take responsibility.
“Whatever happens we cannot keep businesses closed forever, we can’t isolate South Carolina from the rest of the world,” McMaster said.
He added: “Take this information to heart and be careful... This virus is with us, it’s not going to disappear...and the hot weather is not going to kill it.”
McMaster has said he’s not going to close down businesses again or mandate that people wear masks -- leaving it up to individuals to step up and take action.
When asked by a WIS reporter what more can be done to stop the spread if he doesn’t take those actions, the governor responded, “very little.”
McMaster also spent some time talking about the financial impact of the outbreak.
Earlier in the day on the governor’s official social media accounts, he shared his proposal about how to use CARES Act funding in South Carolina.
Some of his recommendations came from the accelerateSC task force, which was focused on reopening the economy safely.
One of them includes giving $500 million to the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, as it’s been wiped out due to the need of residents during the outbreak.
“I believe this may be the most important step we can take toward restoring our state’s economic engines to full speed,” the governor wrote. “And it will instill a renewed sense of confidence and stability with our business owners, investors and entrepreneurs.”
Other recommendations include the distribution of money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in two phases -- one of which McMaster wants to happen this summer before the end of the fiscal year.
He also calls for state officials to apply for and exhaust any available federal grant money before using CARES Act funds.