COVID-19 Hartsville testing 3

Workers run a Medical University of South Carolina mobile testing site in Hartsville on Monday, May 18, 2020. 

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on Tuesday announced 133 new cases of COVID-19 in Horry County, and two additional deaths. The deaths were one elderly person and one middle-aged person. The announcement brings Horry County's case total up to 2,189 with 42 deaths.

Statewide, there was an increase of 890 cases and 14 deaths, bringing South Carolina's case total up to 26,572 with 673 deaths. There are also 41 "probable" cases, which are patients who show symptoms of COVID-19 but who are still waiting on lab confirmation. 

DHEC performed 5,122 tests on Monday, and 17.4 percent came back positive. It's the highest percent-positive rate DHEC has announced.

The agency has said a percent-positive rate of 10 percent or more indicates that more wide-spread testing is needed, citing CDC guidelines. On Monday, the agency announced it was upping its testing goal from 110,000 people per month to 140,000 people per month for June, July and August, and 165,000 people per month for the rest of 2020. 

Recently, the average age of cases has been trending younger both locally and across the state and nation, and the age group representing the largest percent of cases was the 21-30-year-old crowd, which accounts for 18 percent of all cases. No other age group has a percentage that high.

DHEC said Monday that the average age of COVID-19 patients in Horry County had dropped from 51.4-years-old in March through May to 40.6-years-old in June.

According to DHEC physician Dr. Brannon Traxler, South Carolina has seen a 414 percent increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases among the 21-30-year-old age group since April 4, and a 966 percent increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases among the 11-20-year-old age group.

DHEC has attributed the trend to lax adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Both practices are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19, because even asymptomatic people can spread the disease and 40 percent of transmission occurs before symptoms show up in those who aren't asymptomatic. 

Testing alone isn't the cause of the recent rise in cases. Even though DHEC is testing more people, the percentage of tests showing up positive and an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations are both evidence of a wider and deeper community spread. 

The state's hospital capacity was 72 percent as of Tuesday morning and Horry County's hospital capacity was 82.5 percent, DHEC said.

Of the 7,575 inpatient beds in use, 824 are occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19. Three weeks ago on June 1, only 450 of the state's 6,610 occupied hospital beds held patients who were positive or being investigated for COVID-19.

The uptick of hospitalizations caused Tidelands Health on Tuesday to suspend hospital visitation effective Wednesday with few exceptions. But the hospital is encouraging people to get treatment if they need it instead of being scared off by the viral disease.

"Early in this pandemic, there were people who delayed care because they were afraid to go to a doctor’s office or a hospital,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, Tidelands' vice president of medical affairs. “As a result, we saw instances where chronic health conditions worsened and treatable conditions became life-threatening. Even as COVID-19 cases spike locally, it’s important that patients continue to seek care when they need it. Don’t risk your health and your life by putting off medical care."

Tidelands Health on Friday is hosting a free testing clinic at Coastal Carolina University from 10 a.m. until testing kits run out. Tidelands says it has enough tests to cover 2,500 people. No pre-screening is required. 

Click here for a list of mobile testing sites throughout the state

DHEC is asking people to wear masks in public, to practice social distancing, to practice good hygiene and to avoid large public gatherings to slow the spread of the disease. 

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