COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The constant rising cases, the overall increase in positive tests, and the total number of deaths closing in on 1,000 paints a worrisome picture for South Carolina’s fight against COVID-19.
And when you compare data from the Palmetto State to other states making national headlines for high infection rates, it doesn’t look much better.
“South Carolina is really leading the nation in our burden of cases, we are up there with Florida, Arizona, Texas, California, and I don’t see it going down anytime soon,” said Melissa Nolan, an expert in epidemiology and biostatistics and University of South Carolina Assistant Professor.
Depending on the data analyzed, South Carolina is either third, fourth or periodically the fifth-worst state for coronavirus infections.
For example, in terms of the highest percentage of all coronavirus cases that come out positive, South Carolina is the third-worst in the U.S. as of July 13, according to Johns Hopkins. Arizona and Mississippi outpace South Carolina in percent positive, and Florida slightly trails our state.
“The higher number the positive test rate, the more infection in the community we are seeing,” Nolan explained. “And right now, we are really starting to see it grow in an exponential and linear fashion.”
Looking at the number of people who have gotten COVID-19 in the past seven days and taking population size into account, South Carolina is the fourth worst.
South Carolina has had 31.3 cases for every 100,000 people. Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana all have more than 40 cases per 100,000.
But epidemiologists believe it is possible to improve these numbers.
According to projections from the University of Washington, a universal face mask policy in South Carolina would reduce the daily number of deaths from the roughly 20 we are seeing now to less than five a day and decreasing by September 1.
Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly told reporters he won’t put a state-wide mask ordinance in place because he says it will be unenforceable, but he has been supportive of local rules on masks.
Nolan said other states with climbing case counts like New Mexico have also enforced travel bans.
And while she acknowledges it would hurt South Carolina’s tourism-dependent economy, she said it would benefit the state long-term.
“Any time we have additional people coming in, that’s a chance we have new introductions of the virus into our local populations,” Nolan said. “So, we are really trying as much as we can to limit as much as we can new introductions from outside visitors.”
In fact, the New York Times found Charleston is one of the top 10 areas experiencing the newest cases in the last two weeks based on population size.
Nolan said the sad reality is without most people wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands, we will not only be one of the nation’s leaders in cases... But soon, we might be the leader.