If number of new COVID cases in Tri-county drops by same number next week, key tracking indicator will go yellow

September 10, 2020
White mask on red background
Mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing appear to be paying off in the Tri-county area. Canva

The leader of the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project hopes he’ll stop seeing red soon in a key coronavirus tracking category.

“It’s really good news. I’m proud of the community for doing the right thing and sticking with things,” said Michael Sweat, Ph.D., of the latest weekly new COVID-19 case count for the Tri-county area. It dropped to 678 last week for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined. The week before it was 1,026.

If the total number of new cases drops like that again in the coming week or weeks in the Tri-county area, it would finally bump one of his team’s indicators from red to yellow. The category rates the number of reported COVID-19 infections per 10,000 people on a scale from green to red. To get out  of the red zone, the number of cases per week would have to drop to less than 388.

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

“It’s great we’re getting closer,” Sweat said. “The growth rate is also really, really low.”

The growth rate of COVID-19 in the Tri-county area, another of the factors his team is tracking, is down to 0.4% in his team’s latest update. It was 0.7% the week before. That keeps it comfortably in the green zone. It will stay there as long as it remains under 1%.

“With 678 cases last week, there’s still plenty of virus around. But there’s no question – it’s down,” Sweat said. 

“There was a blip recently that was scary,” he noted, referring to a spike in cases in the Tri-county area between Aug. 28 and Aug. 31. “We were wondering if it would keep going up. Fortunately, it hasn’t.”

But he has other concerns. “This kind of great news always carries with it the paradox of prevention issue.” 

When things are improving, as they are now, people tend to stop taking precautions. If that happens with COVID-19, things could take a dangerous turn as we head into the cooler months. “I’m doing my best not to be negative. But you think ahead with winter and the holidays, and I think it’s going to be hard. It’s kind of a worry what’s going on with universities,” Sweat said.

“I think the smart thing to do is to make a plan for how to protect yourself — a science-based plan — and stick with it until we get a vaccine. When the numbers go down, I know people say, ‘It’s better. I can get together with my friends, and I can hang out and go to a concert — go out to a bar.’ And the logic sounds right – the little voice in your head telling you that. But it isn’t right. You need to wait till we get a vaccine before you let up. That’s what I want to emphasize.”

A vaccine is coming, Sweat believes. He looks forward to a time when his team will add vaccination rates to the indicators it’s tracking. “There are a lot of good things going on with vaccines. We should be optimistic about that.”

The Medical University of South Carolina developed the COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project to analyze trends, make projections and help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. While its main focus is on the Charleston Tri-county area, it also provides information on the Florence and Lancaster areas. 

The project’s web page is updated at least once a week using data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, MUSC Health, the consumer insight and measurement company Cuebiq, the Census Bureau and scientific journals.

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