What began as a trickle of cases has morphed into a way of life in South Carolina as the coronavirus continues its relentless attack on the state, infecting rural pockets and urban centers with ruthless efficiency.
The disease seemed a distant threat when it emerged in China late last year. But in the months since, it has claimed nearly a million lives as it's marched across the globe inflicting sickness and death.
It’s hard to believe at times that it’s been less than 10 months since the first case arrived in the United States. At the time, public health officials deemed the threat to the American public to be low. We now represent nearly a quarter of the world’s death toll from COVID-19.
Less than 30 days after the Palmetto State recorded its first case in March, the number of infections had climbed to more than 1,000, with 22 lives lost. This past week, we crested 3,000 deaths from a disease that has sickened more than 134,000 South Carolinians.
In between, we closed up our state and reopened again, thinking we had dodged the worst of the virus. But as people swarmed to beaches, restaurants and malls — craving a taste of pre-pandemic life — the virus roared back with a fury, topping more than 2,000 cases in a single day.
That surge has since leveled off, replaced with a steady cadence of cases and deaths that has remained persistent even in decline. It has become part of our daily lives, changing timeworn habits and the lexicon of our culture.
When the year began, few among us had ever heard of social distancing or thought about wearing a mask into a favorite bar or restaurant. Now, such practices permeate nearly every aspect of our lives.
It’s been a long road traveled in less than 200 days. Perceptions of the virus have changed rapidly and drastically along a tight timeline that has played out this way:
March 6: 2 cases
Health officials announce two South Carolinians have tested positive for the virus.
March 16: 34 cases and first death
The state records its first death from the virus the same week that Gov. Henry McMaster declares a state of emergency, closes schools and urges limits on public gatherings.
March 24: 342 cases and 7 deaths
The city of Charleston becomes the first community in the state to issue a stay at home order, requiring people to stay indoors as much as possible.
April 2: 1,554 cases and 31 deaths
The virus reaches all 46 of South Carolina’s counties.
April 6: 2,332 cases and 48 deaths
McMaster issues a mandatory “work or home” order, saying people aren't heeding his previous recommendations to curb the virus.
April 10: 3,065 cases and 72 deaths
South Carolina adds 1,000 new cases in just five days as White House officials point to hopeful signs that the spread of the coronavirus could be slowing.
April 16: 3,931 cases and 109 deaths
As the tally of new cases dips, McMaster plans to reopen boat ramps for fishing and recreation but urges people not to celebrate too soon.
“The end is in sight, the mission is going as well as expected (but) we cannot let up," he says.
New projections soon show South Carolina can expect 217 coronavirus patients to die by August.
April 23: 4,917 cases and 150 deaths
Unemployment in the U.S. swells to levels last seen during the Great Depression, with 1 in 6 American workers losing their job during the pandemic. The House passes a nearly $500 billion spending package to help businesses and hospitals.
May 4: 6,757 confirmed cases and 283 deaths
Restrictions ease as McMaster’s work-or-home order is no longer mandatory and outdoor dining is allowed to resume at restaurants.
May 12: 7,927 cases and 355 deaths
As South Carolina prepares to lift restrictions on close-contact services such as barber shops, nail salons and massage parlors, top infection disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci tells a Senate committee he would “almost want to clone” the Palmetto State’s response to COVID-19.
May 23: 9,895 cases and 425 deaths
Memorial Day weekend begins with thousands of beachgoers flocking to the South Carolina coast, mirroring national scenes that spark concern from health experts.
May 30: 11,394 cases and 487 deaths
Hundreds march peacefully in close quarters to demonstrate against police brutality before night falls and a riot explodes on Charleston’s Upper King Street. Similar crowds marching across the nation to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis feed fears of a new surge in coronavirus cases.
June 1: 12,148 cases and 500 deaths
Weekly virus cases hit a state record as a worrisome spike emerges in Greenville County.
“We think we are seeing some of the consequences of these social gatherings around the state,” says State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.
June 10: 15,759 cases and 575 deaths
As cases mount, McMaster pleads with South Carolinians to wear masks in public,” but he makes it clear he will not mandate their use or reclose businesses.
“It’s disappointing to go to places and see people all jammed up in crowds ... exposing themselves and possibly others,” he laments. “There’s a lot of stupid floating around out there.”
June 15: 19,378 cases and 602 deaths
As the cases skyrocket, experts now predict nearly 2,400 will die by Oct. 1 from the virus. With Greenville, Horry, Richland and Charleston counties leading the state in new case growth, South Carolina soon passes Florida in the rate of new cases per resident.
June 19: 22,608 cases and 639 deaths
Health officials announced that more residents under the age of 30 are testing positive for COVID-19, as daily case numbers rise above 1,000 for the first time.
June 24: 27,842 cases and 683 deaths
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson says cities can pass local ordinances mandating masks in public, giving credence to measures passed by Greenville and Columbia. Meanwhile, governors in three states require South Carolina travelers to quarantine due to high infection rates.
“We’ve taken our people ... to hell and back,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says. “The last thing we need to do right now is subject our folks to another round.”
June 25: 28,962 cases and 691 deaths
Charleston City Council votes to require people wear masks in public places beginning July 1.
“It keeps rolling in like waves at the beach,” Medical University of South Carolina Dr. Robert Ball tells them. “One reason has to do with the virus, the other has to do with human behavior. (Requiring masks) is low-hanging fruit.”
June 29: 34,546 cases and 717 deaths
As hospitalizations from the virus top 1,000 statewide, more than 10 cities and towns adopt mask ordinances, including Mount Pleasant, Summerville and Folly Beach.
“Right now, that’s the only thing we got,” says Summerville Mayor Ricky Waring. Still, others say a mask requirement was an infringement on their liberty, or worse.
“Right now, God, our divinity, is being challenged,” Mount Pleasant resident Linda Seaton says. “This is a fascist attempt, what is going on right here.”
July 1: 37,809 cases and 759 deaths
Hospitals warn of dwindling beds as McMaster threatens to maintain restrictions on large public gatherings as long as daily positive cases continue to spike.
“You have the opportunity to invest in some common sense,” he says. “We will not be able to have college football, we won’t be able to have high school football, concerts, we just won’t be able to do it, so I encourage everybody to make up their minds.”
July 3: 41,413 cases and 787 deaths
Mask requirements go into effect in North Charleston and Charleston County and Horry County as state health officials caution residents to stay away from big gatherings over the Fourth of July weekend.
July 6: 46,257 cases and 819 deaths
Cases rise in 41 of 50 states amid widespread reports of people ignoring social distancing. Miami closes restaurants and gyms again, West Virginia’s governor mandates masks and the mayor of Atlanta tests positive for the virus.
July 9: 50,548 cases and 898 deaths
South Carolina emerges as a global hot spot, fueled, in part, by a rise in infections among the young. A Post and Courier analysis finds the state ranks fourth in the world in infection, accounting for population size.
Dr. David Cole, president of MUSC Health, says Charleston’s welcoming nature and tourism-based economy have contributed to the spike. “What makes Charleston, Charleston … is our weakness right now."
July 10: 52,273 cases and 922 deaths
McMaster orders bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m. to help stem the virus’s spread, following similar moves in Florida, Texas and California. It is the first re-opening rollback since he began easing restrictions in April.
“It is time for our younger adults to behave like mature adults,” he says.
July 11: 54,538 cases and 940 deaths
The state sees its first child death from the virus. Experts say a national uptick in deaths from the virus has begun, as well, while Disney World reopens in Florida and President Donald Trump appears for the first time in public wearing a mask.
July 15: 62,071 cases and 984 deaths
McMaster and top GOP lawmakers call on S.C. public schools to reopen and offer face-to-face learning this fall, declaring South Carolina’s experiment with virtual instruction this spring was a failure.
“We can’t stop progress in education and people working,” McMaster says. “We can’t shut down forever.”
The request receives immediate pushback from the state’s education chief and others who say students should return to schools only when it is safe.
July 16: 63,880 cases and 1,053 deaths
South Carolina sees its highest daily death toll to date, roughly matching the number of U.S. Army soldiers from South Carolina who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
July 19: 69,765 cases and 1,138 deaths
As Trump predicts the virus is “going to disappear,” the United States tops the global death toll list with over 140,000 and confirmed infections with 3.7 million. Worldwide, coronavirus cases surpass 14 million and deaths near 600,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
July 21: 73,101 cases and 1,203 deaths
During a visit to Columbia, Vice President Mike Pence describes the rise in cases here and in other states as “serious” but urges people to take heart.
“The people of South Carolina should know that we are in a much better place to respond to this pandemic across the South than we were two or three months ago,” he says.
Meantime, federal official continue to haggle over a new virus aid package with little progress.
July 23: 76,315 cases and 1,294 deaths
With figures showing a record number of coronavirus patients in South Carolina using hospital beds and ventilators, the state’s top epidemiologist tells The Greenville News that a statewide mask order would help slow the surging COVID-19 outbreak.
“We could get where we needed to be much more quickly, obviously, if we were able to do something statewide all at once," Bell says, taking a stance contrary to the governor’s position.
July 27: 82,071 cases and 1,452 deaths
As South Carolina nears 1,500 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, seniors in long-term care facilities are among the hardest hit. DHEC numbers show 557 patients and caregivers have died of COVID-19 — a full 38 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.
Meanwhile, final-stage testing gets underway of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, with some 30,000 Americans expected to participate in the trial.
July 28: 83,720 cases and 1,505 deaths
DHEC projects indicate that the number of fatalities from the virus will double by late October without a universal mask ordinance.
South Carolina Congressman Ralph Norman appears in a video that features doctors downplaying the risks of coronavirus and touting hydroxychloroquine as a “virus cure.” Facebook and Twitter later remove the video due to misinformation, but not before it is retweeted by Trump and is seen by more than 17 million people.
July 29: 85,423 cases and 1,551 deaths
McMaster announces plans to reopen concert halls, theaters and stadiums with capacity limits and other restrictions. He also makes mask usage, social distancing and other measures mandatory for bars and restaurants while calling upon county and local governments to enact their own requirements for face coverings.
The U.S. death toll from the virus hits 150,000, by far the highest in the world.
July 30: 87,117 cases and 1,600 deaths
Football fans across the Palmetto State are crushed after word surfaces that the annual showdown between Clemson and USC won’t happen in 2020.
Aug. 4: 93,604 cases and 1,774 deaths
Officials say South Carolina social workers are trying to track down more than 3,000 students still unaccounted for since schools closed nearly five months ago.
Aug. 5: 94,837 cases and 1,819 deaths
Deaths at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities now make up 39 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in the state.
Across the U.S., testing for the coronavirus drops even as infections and deaths remain high. Officials blame this on long wait times for testing and results.
Aug. 6: 96,132 cases and 1,863 deaths
A Quinnipiac University Poll finds 46 percent of S.C. registered voters approve of how McMaster is handling the COVID-19 outbreak, while another 46 percent disapprove.
Aug. 7: 97,554 cases and 1,883 deaths
The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and more than 30 other large events can go forward under new rules requiring state approval for most gatherings of more than 250 people.
Data shows the seven-day rolling average number of new cases has reached a 39-day low, and deaths have declined, as well.
Aug. 9: 99,713 cases and 1,949 deaths
The State newspaper reports that lead epidemiologist Bell has accused McMaster’s staff of misleading the public about her position on reopening indoor dining at restaurants, barber shops and close-contact businesses. Bell says the governor’s staff was “somewhat manipulative’’ in meetings and made it appear that she backed reopening these spots earlier than DHEC advised, the newspaper reports.
Aug. 10: 100,431 cases and 1,966 deaths
The state says it has approved all 81 school districts plans to reopen, with a mix of online and in-class instruction.
Aug. 11: 101,360 cases and 2,012 deaths
As South Carolina surpasses 2,000 deaths from COVID-19, the state’s public health agency tells lawmakers it needs $198 million more for coronavirus testing and containment.
Worldwide, cases of the virus top 20 million, doubling in six weeks. The real number of people with the virus is expected to be much higher — perhaps 10 times higher in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Russia becomes the first country to approve a vaccine for the virus. The Big 10 and PAC 12 announce they will not play football in the fall due to the virus. And New Zealand reports its first cases of the virus in 102 days.
Aug. 12: 102,143 cases and 2,057 deaths
DHEC data shows state areas with mask requirements saw a 15 percent drop in new virus cases over four weeks, while spots without ordinances logged a 30 percent increase in known cases.
“This new data shows us what we already knew, wearing face masks works,” Bell says.
Aug. 13: 103,051 cases and 2,089 deaths
State lawmakers express frustration with testing delays and demand that DHEC tell them what can be done to improve matters.
Asked what successful states are doing, Marshall Taylor, DHEC’s acting director, replies, “I don’t have an answer for you.”
Aug. 15: 104,874 cases and 2,156 deaths
In Myrtle Beach, more than 3,000 people — riders, crew, staff and spectators — flock to the 62-year-old Myrtle Beach Speedway for its final race, violating McMaster’s executive order on large gatherings.
Aug. 18: 106,574 cases and and 2,230 deaths
As colleges across the nation struggle with new COVID-19 clusters at the start of the fall semester, the University of South Carolina joins a handful of colleges to gain approval to use saliva tests for the virus.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill abruptly cancels in-person classes after about 130 students test positive during the first week.
Aug. 25: 112,088 cases and 2,408 deaths
Areas covered by face covering requirements have seen a 43 percent drop in total cases over five weeks, DHEC reports. About 40 percent of South Carolinians live in these areas.
Aug. 28: 114,400 cases and 2,521 deaths
Cases at the University of South Carolina spike 500 percent as the school notches 577 infections to finish its first full week of classes.
Aug. 30: 116,697 cases and 2,574 deaths
Though COVID-19 cases in South Carolina are declining, experts say the state needs to be prepared for a second wave, which epidemiologists predict is sure to come.
Sept. 1: 118,116 cases and 2,626 deaths
Mount Pleasant Town Council votes down a new mask-wearing requirement championed by Mayor Will Haynie, despite repeated endorsements of such measures by the governor and DHEC.
South Carolina nursing homes can soon reopen for limited family visits under strict rules released by state health officials.
In the 10 weeks since summer began June 20, the global count of confirmed infections has more than tripled and deaths have nearly doubled, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Sept. 2: 188,699 cases and 2,652 deaths
The University of South Carolina reports more COVID-19 cases than almost any other major university in the country, but officials have no immediate plans to close the campus.
Sept. 8: 123,801 cases and 2,772 deaths
The public school year opens across South Carolina with a mix of excitement, confusion and emptier classrooms, many with no students at all, as their teachers give instructions through a computer screen.
Sept. 18: 133,310 cases and 3,010 deaths
As the state passes 3,000 deaths, DHEC data shows communities that enacted and kept mask requirements continue to see slower rates of coronavirus spread than communities without such rules.