Weekend COVID spike in Tri-county as key tracking indicator goes from green back to yellow

September 02, 2020
Clinical lab specialist Tanisha Dickerson prepares samples for COVID testing.
Clinical lab scientist Tanisha Dickerson prepares samples for COVID-19 testing at the Medical University of South Carolina. Photo by Sarah Pack

One of the key indicators in the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project’s latest update has gone from green to yellow. The project, which tracks COVID-19 trends in the Tri-county area, monitors whether the number of new cases was trending up or down during the latest 14-day period. In recent weeks, the answer was down, putting it in the green category. 

Not anymore, thanks to a spike in new confirmed cases last Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From Aug. 28 to Aug. 31, there were more than 600 new confirmed cases reported in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined. 

For comparison, Friday through Sunday the week before that, Aug. 21 through Aug. 23, there were about 300 confirmed new cases in the Tri-county area.

“Last weekend’s numbers were really big numbers,” said Michael Sweat, Ph.D., leader of the MUSC COVID-19 tracking project. “That’s really a lot of cases per day. There’s just no question.”

But he’s not ready to call that a new trend. The Tri-county numbers have gone back down since then. “It will be really interesting to look at what happens over the coming weeks. This could go up and down. If it goes up again, we could be looking at a trend. But it could just be some noise,” he said, referring to the stability of the data.

“What I would guess is one of two things. It’s either we’re beginning to see a trend in the community of general increase. Or there could have been a superspreader event that drove up those numbers.”

A superspreader event could be something like a party or a religious service or a big family reunion – a place where a small number of infected people who don’t know they have the virus spread it to a lot of other people.

Sweat said hospitalizations from COVID-19 have risen slightly in the last few days as well, but they’re still at a very manageable level, meaning there’s plenty of bed space.

Other markers in the MUSC COVID-19 tracking project are generally holding steady. There’s plenty of testing available, and people are getting results within an average of two days.

But Sweat is concerned about what lies ahead. “I think we’re going to see another bump coming up. I think we’re likely to see an even bigger one than we had over the summer.”

So he encourages people to see the pandemic’s big picture. “Do the things that work: wear a mask, avoid crowds, stay inside and stick with that regardless of what these data say day to day,” Sweat said.

“It’s healthy to know the numbers and feel good about them, and know it’s because of people’s behavior that we’re here at a lower rate than we were at the July peak. But they also need to realize it can shoot up fast. They shouldn’t just say, ‘Vaccines are coming,’ and loosen up. You really have to make a plan for how to protect yourself, and stick with that plan regardless of ups and downs in how many cases are being reported.”

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.