COVID cases up 23% in Tri-county over previous week

December 03, 2020
Graph showing COVID 19 trends in Tricounty
While the Tri-county area is nowhere near its July COVID-19 peak, the number of cases is on the rise.

COVID-19 cases are up 23% in the Charleston Tri-county area, according to the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project’s first December report. 

The team’s weekly update shows there were 971 cases in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined, compared to the previous week’s total of 790. For comparison, in mid-November, the total per week was about 600.

And this week’s increase does not reflect a possible Thanksgiving bump, which would be unlikely to show up until at least next week. “It takes most people about five days to have symptoms,” said project leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D. 

“A lot of people, maybe 50 or 60%, will have very mild symptoms and won’t get tested. Meanwhile, it can continue to spread. Three or four days pass, and they’re really infectious but they’re not feeling bad, so they accidentally spread it to others, and the pattern continues. It takes about two weeks to start showing up in the data. We’ll be watching what will happen next week.”

However, Sweat said to keep in mind that while Tri-county totals have gone up, the overall number is still relatively low at 18 cases per day per 100,000 people in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined. To put that in perspective, the national average was almost 50 daily cases per 100,000 people as of Dec. 3. “We're at the bottom of the heap — in a good way. It's kind of remarkable.”

Mother Nature may be a key factor. While the Tri-county area has had a few chilly days lately, overall it hasn’t gotten very cold yet. That means people have been able to spend time outside, which is considered safer, and open windows when they’re inside. But as the weather cools, we’ll head indoors and turn on heaters, which dry out the air and may help coronavirus particles evaporate quickly and become aerosolized – not a good combination. 

Meanwhile, Sweat’s team is tracking two COVID clusters in other parts of the country. “One is the West Coast — California, Oregon and Washington state are all having increases. The second one is in the Northeast — Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and DC are seeing an uptick.”

That’s leading to big national numbers. “Yesterday, for the first time, there were over 200,000 people diagnosed. That's really bad. I remember when it passed a 100,000, and it wasn't even that long ago,” Sweat said.

“It's creating real stresses on the health care delivery system. I don't think space and beds are necessarily the problem, because they can fairly easily expand into other places and even make field hospitals. But there's a massive shortage of staff and a lot of burnout among nurses and respiratory therapists and the ambulance drivers. Across the board, it's taken a toll.”

But a surge is not inevitable in the Tri-county area, Sweat said. “If people would wear a mask, keep their distance and avoid indoor gatherings, this could all go away. But I think people are developing an overly simplistic view of what will protect them.”

For example: “'I'm inside, but we're not going to be close to one another, therefore it's okay.' And I definitely have witnessed that with people. Um, so that doesn't work,” Sweat said.

He also worries the general public is mixed-up about testing. Testing is important in terms of identifying sick people and tracking the virus’ spread, but it’s not a free pass.

“I've heard people I know say, ‘My grandkids are coming for the holidays, but they all tested negative’ — and think they’re safe,” Sweat said.

“It's not the kind of protection that people think it is. Somebody could get infected on the way, or they could have been infected at the time they got the test, but they hadn't had the virus long enough to test positive.”

And keep in mind that the coronavirus spreads easily, Sweat said. “Our numbers could change really quickly.”

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