COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is on the cusp of surpassing 4,000 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to the latest confirmed coronavirus data released by DHEC.
The grim milestone comes just days before the Thanksgiving holiday when health experts expect cases to spike in South Carolina and around the U.S. According to the chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina, spikes in deaths lag behind increases in COVID-19 cases, which means the number of fatal coronavirus cases is expected to sharply increase in the coming months.
“The reality is as we enter this second wave that’s been predicted for some time based on previous pandemics…these numbers can go up very rapidly. And that’s why now is the time to be more vigilant than ever,” Alberg said.
He fears it is possible South Carolina can see about eight thousand coronavirus related deaths by the time a vaccine is readily available to the public. The University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation model, often cited by the White House, currently projects S.C. will see about six thousand deaths by March 1.
“It’s startling. It’s disconcerting and as we think of the human loss it’s a source of great sorrow,” Alberg said.
COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in South Carolina, behind heart disease and cancer, according to 2019 data from DHEC and analyzed by The Post and Courier.
“It speaks to the concern we’ve had about emerging infectious diseases for some time, we’ve had scares in the past few decades, such as the first SARS coronavirus [and] the Ebola virus. Those did not reach the pandemic levels we are in now,” Alberg explained.
However, Alberg and other researchers note the coronavirus is not impacting everyone the same. In South Carolina, elderly people, Black people, and people from lower socioeconomic groups are experiencing a higher proportion of deaths.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black South Carolinians make up 39% of all COVID-related deaths in the state but are only 26% of the total population.
“We need to do all we can to protect those groups,” Alberg said.
Health experts say help is on the way as more optimistic news about vaccine developments emerges, but people need to concentrate on following all CDC guidelines in the meantime.