COVID-19 cases continue to rise in SC; experts break down what it means

An epidemiologist who works at UofSC says the recent spike closely aligns with lifting...
An epidemiologist who works at UofSC says the recent spike closely aligns with lifting restrictions and reopening different sectors of daily life in the state.(WIS)
Updated: Jun. 17, 2020 at 7:17 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 595 new cases of COVID-19.

For about a week now, the state has seen a stark rise in positive cases.

The spike in positive cases is striking and concerning, said Dr. Anthony Alberg, the chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health.

He said that it closely aligns with lifting restrictions and reopening different sectors of daily life in the state.

Alberg believes going to certain places like the gym, salons or indoor dining at restaurants comes with an added layer of risk, and it’s important to continue taking precautions.

DHEC’s epidemiology curve shows the number of new positive cases reported each day in March, April, and the first part of May was between 100 and 200 cases most days.

Alberg says those numbers began to drastically rise towards the end of May. He said the rising numbers correlate to when large sectors of the economy reopened.

“We’re seeing case counts that are four to five times higher than the 150 number -- well over 600 cases per day to 800 cases per day which is really concerning,” Alberg said.

June 4 broke the record with 406 cases, followed by sharp rises almost daily over the next week. On June 12, DHEC reported more than 800 cases.*

Alberg said while some of the rise can be contributed to the increase in testing, he believes it’s largely due to reopening too quickly, a lack of social distancing and not enough people wearing masks.

“The opening up is decreasing the physical distancing or social distancing," Alberg explained. “What we are seeing in South Carolina is far too few people wearing face coverings or masks.”

Alberg said another strong indicator of the rate of infection is the percent of positive cases relative to how many people are being tested. DHEC’s model shows that in the middle of May the percent of positive cases was between 4% and 9%, but over the last week the number has been between 9% and 15%.

Tuesday, that number was 13.7%.

“Which is suggesting a real increase in the transmission in the population," Alberg explained. “And that increases our concern that we are getting back into a steep rise of the curve in South Carolina.”

New data from the John Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker shows that Columbia ranked 11th in the nation last week for metro-area hot spots.

Alberg said officials need to prepare to take measures to stop the spike.

“The biggest worry as an epidemiologist is that the curve continues to increase even further, so we need to take measures to ensure that doesn’t happen -- to ensure that people are wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, and if there continues to be increases seriously considering shutting things back down again,” Alberg said. “That’s part of the pandemic playbook that we are in as recommended by the federal government -- that if you see increases like this, you need to consider shutting back down.”

Gov. Henry McMaster urged everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks in a press conference last week, saying that it’s each individual’s responsibility, because he wasn’t going to shut down the economy again or mandate that everyone wear masks.

*When DHEC initially reported new case numbers for June 12, they reported 770 new cases. DHEC later adjusted the numbers to 803 on its website.

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