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SC health official sounds alarm as state records nearly 1,000 coronavirus cases

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Bottles of hand sanitizer seen at O2 Fitness in Ashley Oaks Plaza on May 8, 2020. Since officials relaxed stay at home restrictions in South Carolina in May, coronavirus cases have grown significantly. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

South Carolina health officials continued to urge the public to follow social distancing rules Thursday as the state recorded nearly 1,000 coronavirus cases.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said that everyone has a role to play in stopping COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

"This virus does not spread on its own," Bell said. "It’s spread around our state by infected people who carry it wherever they go — their work, the supermarket, the post office, a friend’s house. By not following public health precautions, many are putting all at risk."

Number of new cases reported: 987

Total number of cases in S.C.: 21,533

Number of new deaths reported: 4

Total number of deaths in S.C.: 621

Number of hospitalized patients: 626

Percent of tests that were positive: 14.4

Total number of tests in S.C.: 313,210

What’s happening in the tri-county region?

The tri-county region has recently seen significant growth in the number of new coronavirus cases. On Thursday, DHEC reported 139 new cases in Charleston County, 24 in Berkeley County and 20 in Dorchester County.

Where are the COVID-19 hotspots in S.C.?

The biggest coronavirus hotspot in South Carolina was Greenville County, where 169 new cases were reported Thursday. Others include Horry County, where officials recorded another 128, Richland, 79; Beaufort, 48; and Lexington, 45. 

What does DHEC say?

DHEC urged residents to continue precautions: wearing masks, maintaining social distance, avoiding groups, washing hands and staying home if sick.

Bell, the state epidemiologist, said she and her agency understand that what they're continuing to ask of the public isn't easy and that many people are likely tired of hearing the same warnings and taking precautions. 

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"But this virus does not take a day off," she said. "Every day that we don’t all do our part, we are extending the duration of illnesses, missed work, hospitalizations and deaths in our state. There is no vaccine for COVID-19. There are only individual behaviors and actions we must all maintain that help stop its spread."

While healthy people might feel like they're resistant to the virus, South Carolina is seeing hospitalizations and deaths among patients who were previously healthy "and in almost every age group," Bell said. 

"Historically, South Carolinians have willingly made sacrifices for the benefit of all," she said. "Stopping the spread of this disease will not be easy. However, I am confident in our willingness to take the current actions necessary of wearing face masks and social distancing in order to care for each other."

What does MUSC say?

Officials with the Medical University of South Carolina's COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project said Wednesday that there are "three red lights now flashing" for the tri-county area. 

Michael Sweat, director of MUSC’s Center for Global Health, said the growth rate for COVID-19 infections in the tri-county has surpassed 5 percent and is now at 5.3 percent, putting the area's rate in what the Medical University is calling "the red zone." 

"People need to know that it’s growing all of a sudden, and quickly," Sweat said. "Every percentage point increase just magnifies the challenge of getting it back down again."

The trends are troubling but the director said that the actual number of COVID-19 patients in the tri-county is still manageable. 

"There’s plenty of hospital space, and COVID-19 testing is widely available," Sweat said. "The number of active cases we have is something like 800 right now. That’s not a massive number for the size of the population. We have 780,000 people in the area. That’s important to keep in mind."

How many cases have been found in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities?

There have been 2,394 confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,591 residents and 803 staff workers, according to DHEC data released this week.

So far, 291 residents have died from the virus as well as two staff workers.

They account for 47 percent of deaths in the state, a number that has been gradually increasing, the data shows.

One nursing home, Pruitt Health — Ridgeway, has had 16 deaths from COVID-19. Two facilities — Windsor Manor Nursing Home in Manning and Heartland Health and Rehabilitation Care Center in Hanahan — each have had 15 residents die.

The virus has been found in 156 facilities.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the number of new coronavirus cases.

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

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