Beth Holmes gets tested for COVID-19 Saturday in Myrtle Beach during a free testing event hosted by Tidelands Health at Pelicans Stadium. Photo by Christian Boschult 

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control on Thursday announced 126 new cases of COVID-19 in Horry County, bringing our local cumulative total up to 2,495 with 42 deaths. 

Across the state, there were 1,106 new cases, and eight more deaths, none in Horry County. It brings the state’s COVID-19 total up to 28,962 with 691 deaths. 

Of the 6,536 tests performed yesterday – not including antibody tests, 16.9 percent came back positive.

The state’s hospital capacity was a tad over 75 percent and Horry County’s hospital capacity was 84 percent. Of the 7,842 hospital beds in use around the state, 881 beds held patients who have tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19. 

The rising percent of tests coming back positive and the increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is evidence of a deep and wide community spread. For comparison, the percent of South Carolina tests that were positive on June 1 was less than 10 percent and just 450 people were hospitalized with the viral disease. 

DHEC officials have blamed the uptick in cases, as well as the downward trend in the age of new COVID-19 patients, to lax adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. 

On Wednesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell expressed support for a state-wide mask requirement, adding that waiting on individual jurisdictions to pass ordinance would not get the job done fast enough.  She said the state was “going in the wrong direction.” 

Local municipalities like Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have already begun researching mask-mandate ordinances, and Greenville and Columbia have both passed mandatory mask ordinances for certain stores. 

Since the virus currently has no vaccine and no cure, its spread is entirely dependent on whether or not residents follow basic guidelines like wearing a mask in public to protect those around them, and practicing social distancing. Masks covering the mouth and nose prevent folks wearing masks from spreading COVID-19, but doesn’t necessarily protect them from contracting it, so masks are only effective if everyone wears them. 

Masks and social distancing are absolutely critical to preventing the spread of the disease and saving lives, because an estimated 40 percent of COVID-19 transmission occurs in the days before symptoms appear – a period that can last several days or up to two weeks – if symptoms appear at all. 

That means healthy people who feel fine but who don’t wear a mask or take other basic precautions recommended by the CDC and DHEC will still spread the disease to other more susceptible populations such as the elderly who are much more likely to die of COVID-19 if they get it. 

That’s why DHEC and public health experts say wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing, avoiding large public gatherings and practicing good hygiene are absolutely and undeniably crucial to saving the lives of South Carolina citizens and slowing the spread of the virus. 

As the percent of tests coming back positive goes up, DHEC is doing more testing to keep up. The agency announced it was upping its testing goal from 110,000 people per month to 140,000 per month for June, July and August, and 165,000 people per month for the rest of the year. 

The next big testing even in Horry County is 10 a.m. Friday at Coastal Carolina University. Tidelands Health is hosting the event and will have enough test kits for 2,500 people. No pre-screening is required and the event will last until supplies run out. 

Click here for a list of all mobile testing clinics scheduled throughout the state.

The spread of the virus has caused elected officials in other states to warn their residents against visiting Myrtle Beach. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now requiring South Carolina visitors to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in their states.

On Thursday, the U.S. Travel Association released a statement criticizing the travel restrictions as bad for the economy, and instead urged safe travel practices and mask wearing.  

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan followed up with a statement agreeing with the travel association.

"As cases of the virus continue growing across the country, the focus should not be on individual cities or states, but rather on educating citizens on how to travel responsibly to protect themselves and others," said Riordan. "It is the responsibility of every individual to take the necessary precautions when they venture out of their homes or travel, such as social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing."

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