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USC and DHEC launch yearlong coronavirus immunity project as SC cases top 160,000

DHEC logs 921 new cases, 40 more deaths

  • Updated
MUSC Health respiratory specimen collection site (copy)

A nurse with the Medical University of South Carolina checks her cooling device on the helmet she wears during her work at MUSC's COVID-19 sample-collection site in the parking lot of the Citadel Mall campus. File/Provided

The state health department is partnering with the state's largest university to launch a yearlong project uncovering coronavirus infection and immunity across the state.

The S.C. STRONG project (Sampling and Testing Representative Outreach for Novel coronavirus Guidance) will include 32,500 randomly selected state residents, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Thursday.

Each participant will complete an online survey, then get a free nasal swab test and blood test to see if they are or have been infected with COVID-19. Selected participants will be mailed blue envelopes, DHEC said.

Scientists will use the results to analyze hot spots, calculate herd immunity rates and make forecasting models, and will post their findings to scstrong.sc.edu. Dr. Melissa Nolan, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, said the information will help officials decide how to distribute resources during the pandemic.

"This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for South Carolinians to directly support public health experts’ understanding of this new and deadly disease that continues to impact our state and nation," said Dr. Virginie Daguise, director of DHEC's Bureau of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. “Partnering with collaborators from academic institutions, government agencies, family medicine and pediatric clinics, and nonprofit organizations across the state, this widescale public health project will track current infection rates and provide scientific evidence of immunity among various populations."

DHEC and USC will be supported by Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, S.C. National Guard, Health Sciences South Carolina, Prisma Health, S.C. Office of Rural Health and S.C. Primary Health Care Association.

Statewide numbers

New cases reported: 921, which is 483 percent higher than the 158 tallied on March 31, the day Gov. Henry McMaster ordered nonessential businesses to close.

Total cases in S.C.: 160,384, plus 7,101 probable cases

New deaths reported: 40

Total deaths in S.C.: 3,526 confirmed, 229 probable

Total tests in S.C.: 1,814,795

Hospitalized patients: 766

Percent of positive tests, seven-day average: 11.8 percent. Five percent of tests or fewer returning positive results is a good sign the virus’ spread is slowing, researchers say.

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Hardest-hit areas

The top South Carolina counties for new coronavirus cases Thursday were Greenville, 130; Spartanburg, 117; and Charleston, 64.

What about tri-county?

Charleston County had 64 new cases while Berkeley had 21 and Dorchester had 29, according to DHEC.

DHEC reported two confirmed deaths of patients from the tri-county area Thursday, one from Dorchester and one from Charleston. They're also investigating a second death in each of those counties to confirm whether the patients had COVID-19.

Deaths

Of the 40 new deaths, 34 were elderly patients aged 65 and older, while six were middle-aged patients aged 35 to 64.

They lived in Anderson, Bamberg, Barnwell, Charleston, Cherokee, Chester, Colleton, Darlington, Dorchester, Georgetown, Greenville, Horry, Lancaster, Laurens, Lee, Lexington, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg, Sumter and York counties.

Hospitalizations

On Thursday, DHEC reported 766 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 185 in intensive care and 91 on ventilators.

What do experts say?

Authorities continue to urge South Carolinians to take precautions like wearing masks or other face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

They also urge anyone who believes they’ve been exposed to the virus or who is developing symptoms to get tested. Those out in the community or not able to socially distance should get tested monthly, DHEC advised.

There are 120 mobile testing events scheduled through Dec. 23 and 292 permanent testing facilities. Go to scdhec.gov/covid19testing to find a testing site in your area.

Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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