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South Carolina records 331 coronavirus cases, a record high, and 13 deaths

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This electron microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. South Carolina and local authorities are bracing for Hurricane Isaias while battling the spread of coronavirus. File/AP

South Carolina recorded 331 coronavirus cases on Friday, a record high number, according to public health officials. 

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control also announced 13 deaths. Friday's record comes as case increases have outpaced testing rates over the past week. 

According to data analysis by The Post and Courier, the number of tests done each day has dropped by 10 percent while the number of new, daily cases rose by 20 percent in the same period, making this the first sustained period that cases have outpaced testing. 

A Post and Courier analysis also shows that over the past week, cases have increased at the fastest rate since late March.

DHEC officials, responding to a question about the daily case record, say they are looking closely at the data and have not yet been able to identify a pattern. 

"What we do know is that the highest number of case reports has traditionally been over a couple of days toward the end of the week," Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC's director of public health, said. "It may be that more people who aren't feeling well, it's the end of the week (and they) seek testing."

Duwve said DHEC staff looked to see if there were any clusters of cases that might account for the higher number. They found apartment buildings throughout the state where there were some case clusters as well as in other "congregate living facilities." 

"But none of those account for the overall high numbers," she said. "We're going to be watching this very, very closely."

Jennifer Read, DHEC's chief of staff, said the agency's data over the past 28 days still shows an overall downward trend in terms of percent of tests that come back positive. 

Asked about an upward trend in percent of positive tests over the past 14 days, Read said these trends are made up of "very small percentages."

"For the first two months of the response, we averaged about a 9 to 11 percent positive rate per day," she said. "We've seen that dip as low as just over 2 percent and fluctuate into the 6-7 percent. ... Over the last 14 days it went from a very low, I think we were at 2 percent or so, to a little over 4 or 5 percent, but again, still very low." 

Public health officials tend to look more at the long-term trend, and numbers over the last 28 days are still falling, Read said.  

But the recent upward trend is still troubling. 

On May 4, the state's home or work order expired and officials started allowing businesses across the Palmetto State to reopen with restrictions. Residents started going out again to restaurants, parks, waterways and other gathering places. 

In 26 days since, DHEC data shows the number of weekly cases has risen consistently. 

From May 4 to 9, there were 869 coronavirus cases logged in South Carolina. May 10-16 saw 1,218 new cases and from May 17 to 23, the last full week measured, there were 1,296 cases. 

So far this week, there have been 1,055 cases. 

While the order was in place — April 6 to May 4 — case numbers fell, but inconsistently.

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From April 6 to 11 the state recorded 1,159 cases. April 12 to 18 recorded 1,052 cases. April 19 to 25 saw 1,116 and April 26 to May 2 saw 1,055 cases. 

In total, 11,131 people have been infected and 483 people have died in the state since the virus was first identified in the Palmetto State in early March, according to DHEC. 

Of the new deaths, eight were of elderly patients, ages 65 and older: two from Florence County and one each from Berkeley, Darlington, Fairfield, Greenville, Horry and Spartanburg counties, DHEC said. 

Five deaths were of middle-aged patients, between 35 and 64 years old, from Florence, Laurens, Lee, Saluda and Williamsburg counties, DHEC said. 

Friday's case numbers identified 75 cases in Greenville County, significantly higher than anywhere else in the state.

Meanwhile, the Medical University of South Carolina, DHEC and the S.C. Hospital Association released a testing plan that pledges to make a diagnostic tests available to anyone who wants one.

The federal government will send South Carolina testing supplies — which have been in and out of shortage — if the state tests 2 percent of its population each month, according to the plan. The health agencies want to do more, however.

The guidelines also place emphasis on testing in underserved communities and in nursing homes, where DHEC has committed to testing 40,000 residents and staff members by the end of May.

Assisted-living facilities, jails, prisons and group homes will follow soon thereafter.

In Charleston, a pair of Upper King Street restaurants with a shared kitchen on Friday shut down after one back-of-the-house employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bourbon & Bubbles and Mesu’s 14 other employees have been asked to self-quarantine while the venues are professionally cleaned and sanitized, operations director Zach Dennis said. The restaurants are aiming to reopen June 6 and employees are being paid.

City officials in Charleston, meanwhile, announced changes to paid parking citywide in an effort to support businesses and "safely stimulate economic recovery."

Starting Monday and continuing through the rest of the year, parking enforcement will cease after 6 p.m., according to city officials. New hours for paid parking will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In addition, parking at Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority's park-and-ride lot, 995 Morrison Drive, will be free for the rest of the year, officials said. The lot is used by food and beverage industry workers catching the free Hospitality on Peninsula bus. 

"It's critical that we continue to do everything we can to support our small and locally owned businesses as they work to reopen safely," Mayor John Tecklenburg said. "These free parking initiatives are a small but important part of our larger effort to keep Charleston healthy and strong throughout this unprecedented time."

Mary Katherine Wildeman contributed to this report. 

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

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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