Weekly MUSC update shows potential fall COVID surge hasn't hit Tri-county yet

November 06, 2020
This microscopic view shows the virus that causes COVID-19, found in a patient in the U.S.
This microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes the illness COVID-19. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. Photo credit: NIAID, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As state health officials warn that a fall COVID-19 surge may be underway, the Tri-county area’s case count is actually down slightly in the latest update from the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project. It’s 601, compared to 634 for the previous week in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined.

Project leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D., said that may be due to the Lowcountry’s warmer weather. “In the Upstate, where it’s cooler - up around Pickens, the Clemson area, Greenville, Spartanburg - there’s been a bit of a surge. That could be driving things.”

The number of COVID cases per 100,000 people statewide is 20. In the Tri-county area, it’s 11. Sweat said cooler weather pushes people indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. 

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

Of course, the Tri-county area will continue to cool as well as we head toward winter. So Sweat, who directs the Division of Global and Community Health at the Medical University of South Carolina, said people need to stick with steps like wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing to try to keep the coronavirus from surging in the Charleston area. “There is enough of the virus around that it could take off really quickly.”

It has at the national level. “It’s just bad. Nationally, there has been a 51% increase in cases in the past two weeks. There's a really major outbreak happening all through the middle part of the country now. We just broke 100,000 cases a day, which is kind of mind-blowing. I mean, we never would've thought we'd be here a half year ago.”

But Sweat said people should be heartened by the prospect of vaccines in the near future. “It's looking positive. The trials are advancing, and I can tell from how they are progressing that perhaps as soon as December, they're likely to start having some vaccines available, assuming that they’re shown to be safe and effective.”

He hopes that possibility will help people hang on for a little while longer. “I'm so worried that with the cooler months coming, and the holidays, everybody's worried that we're going to have major outbreaks. If people could just make it through the next few months, we've gone so far, you know – don’t give up.”

That extends to family gatherings. “Somebody gets infected, they come home and then the whole household catches it, and it happens really quickly. Your family members could come for Thanksgiving, and even if they tested themselves right around the time they left, they might not test positive yet, or they might pick it up along the way to visit, and you could have a real disaster. The whole family could get it. It's serious stuff.”

The MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project is currently updated weekly, using data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and Cuebiq to analyze trends. It also creates models to predict what could happen. Sweat said next week, the project will start giving daily online updates on the number of cases per 100,000 people in the Tri-county area.

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