Tri-county COVID situation ‘good, and every week it’s getting better.’ But expert says you should brace yourself

October 09, 2020
Woman holding large container of hand sanitizer.
You'll need to keep this stuff around a good while longer.

There’s no question that the latest Tri-county update from the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project is encouraging. 

“It’s good, and every week, it’s getting better,” said its leader, Michael Sweat, Ph.D. He’s faculty director at the Center for Global Health at the Medical University of South Carolina.

His COVID tracking team’s weekly online update shows the number of cases in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties dropped to 333 over the most recent seven days analyzed. “We’re into yellow status on the number of cases per week, and I think given the trends, that will continue to drop.”

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

That shows the steps people are taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the Tri-county area are working, Sweat said. “We’ve opened up society a lot. Many people are going out to eat indoors. People are shopping and going to work. Life is going on. The service industry’s been hit hard, unfortunately. But factories are working, deliveries are happening and we’re keeping rates down. I think it’s mostly because people are being cautious by using masks, distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings and washing their hands. We know it can work.”

But he wonders what will happen when the weather cools in South Carolina, noting that in states where it’s already cool, such as Wisconsin and the Dakotas, cases are surging. That’s true in parts of Europe, too. “What we’ve seen in Europe isn’t very heartening. They also had a terrible epidemic, and multiple countries are having outbreaks that are worse than their first one.”

So, his advice for people in the Tri-county area? “People just need to brace themselves. We should be vigilant. Keep it up.”

Get ready for winter, Sweat said. “I think winter’s always a little hard. It’s dark and colder. Depression rates go up naturally in the winter. There’s a fatigue. This is a disruptive time, we have an election that’s very heated. And holidays aren’t going to be normal. I think the risk of some big outbreaks happening is there.”

He also pointed to growing evidence that the virus may be able to spread a longer distance between people than previously believed. “This is a big deal. There’s been a lot of speculation about aerosols versus droplets. For the longest time, the WHO and the CDC, the two leading groups who do public health guidance, have said they believe it’s transmitted primarily through droplets. So if it’s a droplet, they’re bigger particles and they can only make it about six feet. Everything has been geared around that. But a lot of people, including now the CDC, think aerosols are likely causing transmission. There’s really no safe distance from others if you’re indoors in poorly ventilated spaces.”

Sweat encourages people to make a pandemic plan and stick with it, regardless of where the case numbers are. “What is your prevention strategy going to be? Some people feel comfortable locking down. Others are more comfortable going to restaurants. It’s really smart to get comfortable with your strategy. We’re going to have to stick with this for a while until we get to a treatment or a vaccine.”

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