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How COVID-19 cases are quickly spreading across SC, in 5 graphs

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COVID-19 Coronavirus Testing in Lab

Clinical lab scientists April Kegl and Betsy McLaughlin load COVID-19 samples into a machine for testing. In South Carolina and around the world, new coronavirus cases are quickly tracking upward. Sarah Pack/MUSC/Provided  

In South Carolina and around the world, new coronavirus disease cases are quickly tracking upward and experts say the best solution is for citizens to monitor themselves.

New cases reported in the Palmetto State have broken three previous records since the beginning of June, peaking at 542 on Monday.

With restrictions on businesses, beaches and people mostly lifted, it will be up to individuals to stop the quickening spread of COVID-19. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he has no intention of putting rules back in place

The top medical institutions in the state, along with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, released a joint statement Tuesday urging South Carolinians to continue wearing masks and keeping 6 feet of distance between one another.

"We must commit to wearing face masks in public spaces — if we all wear them, we’ll all be protected. We’re calling on you for your continued help."

Around the globe, roughly 7 million cases and 400,000 deaths have been reported, according to the World Health Organization. The number of new coronavirus cases in a single day hit an all-time high Sunday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news conference. 

"The biggest threat now is complacency," Tedros said. 

The tech firm Unacast, which has been recording how much Americans are moving around, using cellphone data, gives South Carolina an "F" score in social distancing. The state's residents are moving around about as much as they normally would.

Yet the recent rise in coronavirus cases is affecting some parts of the state more than others. 

Michael Sweat, director of the Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Global Health, said hot spots could be flaring up due to community attitudes about the pandemic, the advice of local leadership, where people work and the presence of nursing homes.

Random chance plays a role, too, he said.

He said, undoubtedly, closing the state in March controlled coronavirus' effect.

"It was incredibly effective," he said. "It drove the epidemic to almost zero in this area."

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The prognosis for Charleston and for the rest of the state has shifted, however. South Carolina cases are rising in every one of the state's 10 most populated counties.

Some have pointed to increased testing as the reason case counts are eye-popping in recent days. Sweat called that "an easy excuse," and one not based in fact. DHEC officials have been clear that it is not the only explanation for why infections are on the rise. 

In fact, the number of tests done each day has been relatively level, DHEC data shows, but new cases are rising. 

Its models call for that trend to continue.

Since mid-April, DHEC has been sharing its projections with the public, or its best guesses for how many new cases the state can expect to record. It first estimated 8,000 cases of coronavirus would come by early May. That turned out to be true. 

As the weeks have worn on, DHEC's projections have undershot coronavirus case numbers by a widening margin, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier. Its guess was 850 cases too low last week, compared with 452 the week before.

While the number of new cases each week was holding steady in late April and May, DHEC's best guess calls for that figure to double by the end of June. At that point, there could be as many as 23,000 cases confirmed statewide.

DHEC did not respond to questions Tuesday about its projections. But the agency said while the number of hospital beds in use across the state is growing, the figure sits at about where it would be in a normal year, meaning medical facilities are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a conference Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic is his "worst nightmare." It is not close to over, he said. 

To explore more of The Post and Courier's analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina, check postandcourier.com/covid19.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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