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SC officials announce 542 new coronavirus cases, a new daily record

flu test.jpg

A health care worker with Roper St. Francis tests a contaminated swab for the flu at a coronavirus drive-thru testing site on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston on March 30, 2020. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

South Carolina officials announced 542 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and 11 new deaths.

It marks another in a string of record high cases of COVID-19 reported in South Carolina in one day.

Across the state, 14,800 people have tested positive for the virus since cases were first reported in early March. Deaths reached 557, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Nine of the newly deceased patients were listed as being 65 or older and were from Berkeley, Chesterfield, Dillon, Greenville, Horry, Orangeburg, Richland and Spartanburg counties. Two were middle-aged individuals, those from ages 35 to 64, and lived in Clarendon and Kershaw counties.

On Saturday, two weeks after Memorial Day weekend, officials announced more than 500 new cases in one day for the first time.

It was the ninth consecutive day that the state’s seven-day average had swelled, and more than 29 percent of the total known cases were identified within those past two weeks.

DHEC physician Dr. Lucy Brannon Traxler said on Monday that it's not at the point where people should panic about a surge. Rather, it remains to be seen if the numbers constitute a second wave of the virus, she said.

A few counties reported high numbers of new cases on Monday. Greenville County reported 116 new cases, while Lexington County reported 48 and Charleston County reported 38. Charleston cases are now at a seven-day running peak.

Greenville, Lexington and Horry counties are currently considered hotspots by DHEC.

As of Sunday, more than 253,000 tests have been completed in the state. On Sunday, 6,262 people were tested, with 8.7 percent positive for COVID-19.

The recent record-breaking daily numbers of new cases can't be explained by increased testing, according to health officials. The percent of people testing positive for the virus is trending upwards, Traxler said. 

"This means more people are testing positive than we would hope for compared to how many people we are testing," she said.

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Many people aren't social distancing in the same way they were when the state had more restrictions, Traxler said.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus rose above 500 for the first time on Monday, with 507 people in hospitals throughout the state being treated for COVID-19 or awaiting a diagnosis.

Hospitalizations can lag a week or two weeks behind case counts, according to Traxler. Many patients become sicker in their second week after contracting the virus. DHEC officials said they're not worried about the current levels of hospital occupancy.

Many of the projections used by DHEC have been overshot by case numbers or hospital usage. On the agency's COVID-19 Testing Data & Projections page, a projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation anticipated that for Monday, only 262 beds would be needed and 405 intensive care unit beds would be available, compared with the 507 people actually hospitalized.

Meanwhile, restaurants were handling positive test results among employees differently.

Cru Café, Purlieu and Cru Catering decided to close for a week following an employee’s positive test for the coronavirus, owner John Zucker said on Sunday.

“Everyone’s really kind of silent about it, but I feel if we’re more transparent about it, we can help other people to succeed,” he said.

But at SNOB, employees are concerned that the iconic downtown restaurant hasn’t arranged for them to be tested after a coworker tested positive. An internal document shared with The Post and Courier says SNOB management on Friday night learned of the front-of-house employee’s positive test.

The memo sent to restaurant employees following the start of Saturday's lunch service says, “We immediately contacted DHEC and specialized health care attorneys to ensure we followed DHEC’s protocols and the CDC’s guidance on cleaning, sanitizing and social distancing.”

The memo was attributed to Hall Management Group’s director of operations and human resources, Jim Wahlstrom. He told the paper the restaurant would remain open.

Hanna Raskin contributed to this report.

Reach Fleming Smith at 843-937-5591. Follow her on Twitter at @MFlemingSmith.

Fleming Smith covers crime and public safety for the Charleston area. A native Georgian, she previously covered breaking news and features for The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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