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Greenville Business Magazine

State Health Officials Urge Stepped-Up Efforts As Coronavirus Cases Surge

Jul 08, 2020 10:33AM ● By David Dykes

By Liv Osby

As the number of coronavirus cases in South Carolina continues to surge, state health officials are working to meet the need for increased testing and asking residents, particularly younger ones, to step up precautions.

There were 46,247 confirmed cases and 819 deaths in South Carolina as of July 6, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

And 1,506 new cases were reported on July 5 compared with 264 on June 1, illustrating an alarming trajectory.

The Medical University of South Carolina reports that in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, records were set for the largest number of cases in six of the last seven days. And nearly seven in 10 (67 percent) were diagnosed in the past two weeks.

That sets the current daily growth rate at 8.1 percent, according to MUSC, which projects a doubling in the number of cases every eight to nine days if nothing changes. 

“It’s rapid, explosive growth,” said Michael Sweat, who directs MUSC’s public health project. “Of the 6,171 total cases in the Tri-County area as of July 1, 4,547 have been since mid-June.”

And many of the newest cases are among young people, said Dr. Brannon Traxler, an epidemiologist and DHEC consultant. 

Their numbers have increased 400 percent to 900 percent since May, she told Greenville Business Magazine.

“One of the things we’re really trying to impress on young adults and teens is that we need them to be leaders and do the things they need to do,” she said.

“They don’t have to stay home completely isolated unless they’ve tested positive, but when they’re having social settings, to avoid the large group gatherings, and make sure they’re doing them outdoors and still do social distancing,” she added. “And if they’re indoors, they should be wearing a face covering. We’re asking them to do that.”

By the end of June, 53 percent of cases were among people 40 and younger, 22 percent of them in the 21-30 age group, DHEC reports.  

Sweat said the virus’ spread in young adults has fueled the increase.

“Young people like to get out and interact with people. I think when the state reopening was approved, people just got out,” he added. “And I believe a lot of younger people got infected. Now we’re seeing this wave of them coming in to be tested.”

While younger people generally have less serious symptoms and therefore might not realize they are infected, there may be more of them who don’t get tested, Sweat said. And that could lead to further spread, he said, noting that about 60 percent of cases are from transmission among people in the same household.

“I anticipate we’re going to start seeing older people catching it from younger people,” he said.

As the number of cases goes up, there’s also more demand for testing, Traxler said. DHEC is adding more testing sites every day and plans to do so through the summer, she said. 

DHEC has also increased the number of contact tracers from the usual 20 to “multiple hundreds” now, she said.

“The more positive tests, the more work it is for contact tracing,” she said. “We continue to increase the number … and will continue to do so, although we hope we don’t have to.”

MUSC provides a color-coded status report with green being the best and red the worst. And as of July 1, the growth in cases and trajectory of new cases over the previous 14 days were in the red category. 

Social distancing was yellow. But Sweat said that as more people know friends and family who are infected, they will change their behavior. 

“If it gets bad enough, there’s nothing you can do but institute a strict lockdown,” he said. “I hope we don’t have that, but once those numbers start getting large, you just lose our tools to roll them back. I’m afraid we’re on that path.”