As Charleston reaches a "critical" rate of new coronavirus cases, Mayor John Tecklenburg urged city residents and business leaders on Tuesday to practice good hygiene and wear masks when interacting with others indoors.
Months ago, Tecklenburg said he feared Charleston would become a hot spot, similar to New York and other places in the Northeast. The city became the first in the state to establish stay-at-home restriction — with many other municipalities, and the state, later following suit. On Friday, Gov. Henry McMaster lifted one of the last statewide restrictions and allowed bowling alleys to reopen.
COVID-19 data shared at a news conference in Charleston City Council Chambers on Tuesday afternoon show things are heating up.
"We're heading toward hot spot status unless we all take personal responsibility to help control the spread of this contagion and the virus until a real cure and a vaccine is available," Tecklenburg said.
ZIP code data over the past week shows the city is reaching a "critical level," according to City Chief Innovation Officer Tracy McKee. The average seven-day growth rate reached a 7.68 percent increase in new cases, she said.
"ZIP codes in the city of Charleston have seen a record number of daily new cases four out of the last five days, the number of new cases has doubled in the past week and the number of cases is increasing in all parts of the city," McKee said.
In the tri-county area, the current seven-day average growth rate is 3.6 percent, according to data from the Medical University of South Carolina.
"This value doubled from the prior week, when it was 1.8 percent," MUSC data show. "This is a rapid growth of this value over this limited time frame."
David Cole, MUSC's president, also asked residents to stay vigilant.
"After much sacrifice and incredible effort by so many people to mitigate the first wave of COVID-19 in our community, we cannot afford to become complacent or to give into the temptation to believe there's no more cause for personal action or concern," Cole said. "Living with COVID-19 is our new normal until we as a nation are able to successfully deploy a vaccination against this virus."
John Hagerty, chairman of the regional effort to safely reopen businesses in the tri-county area, urged both business owners and residents to visit the website, oneregionready.com, to either take a pledge that they are following CDC guidelines or check if the businesses they want to patronize have taken the pledge.
Tecklenburg said the city's livability officers, fire marshals and police officers are "coaching" businesses on adhering to guidelines, and some are still posting maximum occupancy limits.
"I asked customers and citizens to be mindful and do business with those businesses that are practicing the protocol that will keep our community safe."