As South Carolina hit a record number of COVID-19 hospitalization Friday, the message from Gov. Henry McMaster was clear: “Wear your mask, wear your mask, wear your mask. Keep that distance, be careful around older people.”
Also Friday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 1,271 new cases of COVID-19, including 82 in Horry County, and one additional death related to the disease. The death was from Greenville County.
The new cases bring Horry County’s cumulative total of lab-confirmed cases up to 2,580 with 42 deaths. South Carolina has played host to 30,263 cases, and 692 South Carolinians have now died because they contracted COVID-19.
An additional 1,706 residents have tested positive for antibodies, meaning they previously have had the disease. The state counts them separately and in addition to the cumulative total of cases that were diagnosed while the patients had an active infection.
Of the 6,969 COVID-19 tests performed on Thursday, 18.3 percent came back positive. DHEC says the spike in the percent of tests coming back positive and the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations are evidence of a wide community spread as far too many residents are ignoring basic guidelines like practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“South Carolina is making national and international headlines, but not in the way we’d like,” said DHEC Director of Public Health Dr. Joan Duwve. “Our state’s numbers have drastically increased over the past few weeks, making us now one of the hotspots in the country for COVID-19. The governors of six states, including New York, have announced that anyone traveling to their states from South Carolina will have to automatically quarantine for 14 days. When I arrived here at the beginning of April, it was just the opposite.”
Friday saw a record high of COVID-19 hospitalization: 906 of the 7,885 hospital beds occupied throughout South Carolina held patients who have tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19. The statewide hospital bed utilization rate was7 5 percent and in Horry County, it was 84 percent.
DHEC says a lot of the increase has been driven by younger people, who, both locally and nationally, continue to make up a larger and larger share of COVID-19 cases. Those younger people who are unaware of their infection can pass the disease on to older people and those with underlying health conditions, who are much more likely to require hospitalization and have a much higher risk of dying from the disease.
For example, people who are 81 and older make up just 4 percent of COVID-19 cases, but make up 35 percent of deaths.
Since April 4, Duwve said South Carolina has seen a 414 percent increase in newly-reported cases among 21-to-30-year-olds, and a 966 percent increase in new COVID-19 cases among those between 11 and 20-years-old.
“The rates of infection among those young people… who are now getting tested is just going up, up, up. But they are showing no symptoms,” McMaster said. “We know that the young people travel. And they have contact with the older people, and that’s when we get into deadly trouble.”
McMaster said Friday that a state-wide mask mandate would be unenforceable, but he's left the door open for local jurisdictions to come up with their own ordinances. Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach are both working on such ordinances.
Recently, governors and elected officials in other state likes West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio have warned their residents about traveling to the Myrtle Beach area due to the spread of the viral disease, and local media there have aired multiple reports of younger people coming back from the beach with dozens of infections.
“They didn’t wear masks, and they didn’t social distance,” Duwve said. “And many of them contracted the virus, which not only caused them to be sick, but put the health of their families and their entire communities at risk.”
A big part of the problem, as DHEC and McMaster have explained, is the fact that many people are still failing to wear masks in public. Masks prevent the wearer from spreading the virus, but they aren’t as effective as preventing the wearer from contracting the disease from those around them who refuse to wear masks.
That means masks are only effective if everyone wears them, especially since an estimated 40 percent of COVID-19 transmission occurs before symptoms show up, if symptoms show up at all.
“We know that you’re tired of hearing it, and we’re tired of saying it, but we’ll continue to say it until more people heed our recommendations: wear a mask,” Duwve said. “Social distance from others by at least 6 feet. Avoid group gatherings. Wash your hands. And stay home when you’re sick.
“We don’t have a vaccine yet for this virus. There is no cure. There are only our individual actions that help us take care of one another. Our duty from a higher authority is that we love one another and we care for one another. Please wear your masks.”
As the percent of tests coming back positive keeps going up, the state has set a new testing goal of 140,000 people per month for June, July and August and 165,000 people for the rest of the year.
“If you have any doubt about whether you may have the virus, go get a test,” McMaster said. “But for goodness’ sakes, wear your mask. Keep that distance. We know that the young people can have this disease and not know it. They feel completely healthy yet they are completely infected. And they can easily pass that to the older people.”