Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 have been reported on a daily basis in the past week in South Carolina, and many residents are likely wondering why, how and what it means.
Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of data has been collected and posted to give readers as much information as possible around the COVID-19 outbreak. With South Carolina reporting higher cases of the novel coronavirus, The Post and Courier is providing additional context to some of the data that is routinely seen online.
Why are cases increasing so rapidly in Charleston?
Mike Sweats, director of the Medical University of South Carolina's Center of Global Health, said at this stage of the pandemic, it’s difficult to learn specifically why ZIP codes like 29403 are becoming hot spots.
The reason is that there are too many cases in the area for an investigator to come in and determine what exactly has been causing the increase in cases in the area. Residents could’ve gotten infected from a local business, or they could work in an area like Hanahan and live in downtown Charleston.
Those types of investigations are typically done in the earlier stages of cases coming up.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to really know,” he said. “It's not feasible to track down every little outbreak.”
But, he said, it is possible to draw some educated theories as to why.
Using 29403 as an example, there are a lot of apartment buildings in the area with a high population of people that have mixed economic backgrounds. Basically, there are likely people in the area who have jobs that don’t allow them to work remotely.
Because they may live in a home with close quarters, it’s also likely difficult for them to isolate in their home when they believe they could’ve been infected, Sweat said.
“Those kinds of things are likely behind this, but I can't say for sure,” he said.
Why mask ordinances have been a priority in certain counties
Charleston, Greenville, Richland, Pickens, Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton counties are some of the areas in South Carolina with towns and cities that have considered or finalized rules around wearing masks.
These are also some of the counties in South Carolina with a seven-day rolling average of new cases that’s higher than it was two weeks prior. The city of Charleston recently voted to require residents to wear masks inside public buildings or outdoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. The rule goes into effect on Wednesday.
Greenville was the first city in South Carolina to require face coverings in pharmacies, grocery stores and among all retail employees. A $25 fine is associated with not following the rule.
Charleston County sees over 220 average cases per day. Greenville sees over 150.
How does South Carolina compare with surrounding states?
In the Southeastern region of the United States, South Carolina had one of the lowest rates of coronavirus cases in April next to North Carolina. Coming up on the end of June, South Carolina is now nearly tied with Florida for the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
The chart below accounts for each state's population size.
Traci Testerman, an immunology and microbiology professor with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, is concerned about the way things are going in South Carolina.
“The state is absolutely headed in the wrong direction, and we do need more rules and support from the governor,” she said.
If everyone had access to N95 masks, then it wouldn’t be a big problem for a few people to walk around without a mask, Testerman said. But since that is not the case, one of the solutions is to reduce the amount of virus circulating in the air and contaminating uninfected people.
Are we seeing more cases because of an increase in testing?
The data below illustrates the number of positive cases of COVID-19 versus the number of cases where someone tested negative.
From May 18 to June 19, while the number of positive cases was steadily increasing, the number of negative cases wasn't seeing a similar uptick.
But in the past couple of days, the total number of tests each week have slowly started rising.
At this time, experts like Testerman and DHEC still encourage residents to practice social distancing even with a mask.
"The closer you are to an infected person, the greater your risk," she said.