‘From totally unacceptable to unacceptable’: Health experts say COVID cases in SC are declining

'From totally unacceptable to unacceptable': Health experts say COVID cases in SC are declining

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The new, daily COVID-19 case numbers reported by the Department of Health and Environmental Control in the second week of February are about four times lower than some of the data reported in January.

But South Carolina scientists and researchers say this positive trend isn’t a cause for a celebration.

“It’s improving dramatically,” Dr. Helmut Albrecht, the chair of the Prisma-University of South Carolina Medical Group, said. “So, it’s gone from totally unacceptable, to unacceptable.”

The percent positive, a data point that shows how prevalent the virus is in a community, in South Carolina is at about 10.3% as of February 9, according to DHEC’s new method of calculating this number. In comparison, that’s nearly half of what it was on January 2 when the percent positive was 19.4% using the same metric.

“Twenty percent is extraordinarily high. Ten percent is not acceptable. Good control is 1%,” he said. “If we do enough testing that only one in 100 tests is positive, then you can track small outbreaks. With 10 out of 100, which is a massive improvement, you still can’t…this is an improvement it’s just not good enough.”

University of South Carolina assistant professor of public health Melissa Nolan said while there has been some decrease in people getting a COVID-19 test in the past couple of weeks, that is not the main reason for this decrease in cases.

“Even though we are currently experiencing testing fatigue, we had testing fatigue back in October, November, and December when we were at the height, even in January,” Nolan said. “So yes, we still have testing fatigue, but that we are seeing lower numbers is encouraging that we are on a downward trend,” she said.

Albrecht and Nolan agree the decrease in cases is also not solely because of the vaccines becoming more widely available in South Carolina.

“I think it’s a little early on to say what impact the vaccine has had, but it’s very encouraging… We also have some level of herd immunity that is also playing a factor it’s not the full level we need it to be at to stop transmission, but we are seeing some mitigation or slowing of spread,” Nolan said.

She also thinks that the spike in cases around the holiday season encouraged people to take masking, social distancing, and hand washing more seriously.

“The challenge then is continuing that trend,” she said.

But more vaccine would still help bring cases down, both scientists said.

“I think if we can get more vaccine into the state, we could get more of the vaccine applied. And we have so many people already infected that [COVID-19] could actually stop being a real, massive quantity problem as early as April,” Albrecht said.

However, hospitals aren’t seeing the full impact of this reduction in cases yet.

South Carolina Hospital Association Chief Operating Officer Melanie Matney said there was a slight increase in the state’s average hospital capacity and the number of hospitals operating at or above 90% capacity, which are two key indicators SCHA tracks.

“Until today, we were definitely on a slow downward trend of utilization across the state,” Matney said. “We need to be even better,” she added.

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