South Carolina reached a new daily record number of coronavirus deaths on Wednesday.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 20 deaths and 207 new cases, bringing totals since the virus was first identified in the Palmetto State to 10,623 cases and 466 deaths.
Of the newly listed deaths, 17 patients were elderly individuals, DHEC said. Three each lived in Fairfield and Richland counties, two each in Colleton and Horry county and one each in Beaufort, Charleston, Darlington, Florence, Lee, Orangeburg and Spartanburg counties.
Three patients were middle-aged people, between the ages of 35 and 64, in Beaufort, Colleton and Lee counties, DHEC said.
On Tuesday, DHEC announced that authorities had surpassed a goal of testing at least 110,000 South Carolinians for the coronavirus by the end of May. Recently, health officials have ramped up testing in an effort to better identify disease patterns and direct resources to communities seeing high numbers of positive cases or that were otherwise in need.
In early May, state health officials unveiled the plan to increase testing as state officials worked toward easing many of the restrictions put in place during the pandemic by allowing businesses to reopen and restoring access to waterways, parks and other public spaces. At the time, the disease had killed more than 300 South Carolinians and infected at least 6,600 more.
Prior to stepping up the testing, most had been reserved for seriously ill patients.
People who did not show symptoms and those with mild cases were largely not tested. Officials said with the rollout of the new plan, they hoped to detect infections early before the virus circulated widely.
Experts said widespread testing and contact tracing — the process of identifying anyone an infected person may have exposed to the virus and notifying those contacts they may have the disease and need to quarantine — is critical to the state’s long-term response to the coronavirus.
Doing both aggressively gives health officials a better understanding of who has the virus, who is at risk and how to stop the spread. That’s important for identifying and containing local flare-ups before they erupt into full-fledged outbreaks that could require further restrictions.
As testing ramped up, DHEC officials cautioned that greater testing could lead to more cases being identified.
But recent increases in case levels may not be entirely attributable to more testing.
State coronavirus data shows that South Carolina has recorded 200 cases per day on average for the past seven days — the first time that threshold has been cleared.
The average number of cases during the past week has risen 15 percent, compared with the week prior, while the average number of tests over the past week has dropped 7 percent. Wednesday marked the third day since Sunday that case numbers increased even though testing numbers dropped.
On Wednesday, DHEC Director Rick Toomey resigned from his position, citing the need to stay healthy after getting his blood pressure under control and his desire to be in Beaufort full time with his first grandchild.
Toomey took a leave of absence in April for several weeks. His last day with DHEC will be June 10.
Seanna Adcox and Andy Shain contributed to this report.